Tuesday Sep 18, 201208:10 AM GMT
Report: Drug, alcohol abuse ‘unacceptably high’ in US military
Tue Sep 18, 2012 8:8AM
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Substance abuse has become a complex and serious problem in the military and not enough is being done to address it, a new report says.

 

The report said that despite a military culture that discourages heavy drinking and drug use, “alcohol and other drug use in the armed forces remain unacceptably high, constitute a public health crisis, and both are detrimental to force readiness and psychological fitness.”

 

In 2008 about half of soldiers in active duty were binge drinkers, compared to about 17 percent of the general population in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

The number of prescriptions for pain medications written by military doctors quadrupled from 2001 to 2009.

 

Disturbing statistics such as these prompted the Department of Defense to ask the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to look over the policies and programs the military has in place to deal with substance use disorders. The result is a report the IOM released Monday.

 

Some of those policies, the IOM found, may be outdated. Addiction treatment and recovery today are more difficult due to soldiers being dependent on more than one substance, so more experienced counselors and therapists are needed.

 

Prescription painkiller use is “skyrocketing,” with some linking it to the consequences of combat: injuries incurred from hauling gear and weapons through several deployments.

 

The report listed a number of things the military could be doing better to curb numbers of addicted soldiers. It recommended routine screenings for alcohol abuse, and training health professionals to spot prescription drug use patterns and medication seekers.

 

Cheap alcohol should be harder to get on military bases, and underage drinking laws need to be enforced. The report also mentioned that people should be urged to get help if they have a problem, despite some obstacles currently in the way, such as health insurance, a fear of repercussions and not enough private services.

 

"The lack of confidentiality of treatment programs is a barrier to accessing care. Treatment levels are below what we'd expect,” Dennis McCarty told U.S. News and World Report. McCarthy, a member of the committee that wrote the report, is a researcher at Oregon Health & Science University.

 

"We commend the steps that the Department of Defense and individual service branches have recently taken to improve prevention and care for substance use disorders, but the armed forces face many ongoing challenges," Charles P. O'Brien, chairman of the report, said in a news release.

 

O’Brien, director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, added, "Better care for service members and their families is hampered by inadequate prevention strategies, staffing shortages, lack of coverage for services that are proved to work, and stigma associated with these disorders. This report recommends solutions to address each of these concerns." Takepart.com

FACTS & FIGURES

At the same time, the U.S. military is facing a crisis in the number of suicides and rapes.

 

Suicides are surging among America's troops, averaging nearly one a day this year -- the fastest pace in the nation's decade of war.

 

The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan -- about 50 percent more -- according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The Associated Press

 

Studies have pointed to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems among the reasons for the increase.

 

Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of committing suicide, although a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed. Boston.com

 

Rape has become rampant in the U.S. military as well. The Pentagon said in April that the number of reported sexual assaults had increased in 2011, with 3,192 cases involving service members as either victims or perpetrators. AP

 

But the Defense Department also has estimated that 86 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, a reflection of the fear some have for the prosecutorial system or their own standing in the service. AP

 

Last year, 17 veterans and active-duty service members in the U.S. military filed a landmark lawsuit accusing the Pentagon of looking the other way despite frequent reports of rape and other abuse against women in the armed forces. The Week

 

AHT/HJ

 

 

 

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