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Drug detox may be necessary for soldiers who survive the army’s “antidepressant fix”

According to an Army estimate, some 20,000 or more soldiers in the Middle East, nearly 30 percent of the total, are taking prescription antidepressants and sleeping pills to help them “cope” with the stress of battle. A major side effect of antidepressants, the increased risk of suicide, may be why twice as many soldiers commit suicide now than before the war. And for those who survive both war and drug side effects, drug detox may be the first stop when they get home.

The FDA has had official warnings placed on antidepressant labels about the increased risk of suicide among children, adolescents, and even young adults ages 18 to 24, the age group that makes up the bulk of our fighting forces in Middle East and those most likely to prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft. Such antidepressant medications often lead to dependency and the need to detox from the drugs in order to safely come off them.

A recent Time magazine article suggests there may be a link between the increased use of antidepressants and the rise in troop suicides in Afghanistan and Iraq. By the end of 2007, army suicides had reached 164, double the rate of 2001. The article says that at least 115 soldiers committed suicide last year, including 36 in Iraq and Afghanistan, the highest suicide rate since which began keeping records in 1980. And nearly 40% of Army suicide victims in 2006 and 2007 were prescribed psychotropic drugs.

An Iraq veteran told Time that “you’re still getting drugs all the time.” He said the drugs combined with the stress of battle create “unfit soldiers…there were more than a few convoys coming out completely dazed.”

Antidepressants have created almost as many problems as they supposedly solve, and not all scientists agree with their use. For example, a British study confirmed that new generation SSRIs do not offer clinically significant improvements and found that they are only slightly more effective than no medication at all. Academics in Britain and the United States question whether patients with mild and moderate depression, which would include most troubled soldiers, should be prescribed such drugs.

Antidepressants not only lead to dependence and the need for drug detoxification, but are also characterized by serious and dangerous side effects: they have been implicated in hundreds of suicides and violent episodes of various kinds. This has led an increasing number of antidepressant users to seek medical drug detox to get off drugs and to seek safer forms of therapy.

Meanwhile, some 20,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are taking prescription stress medications, the Time article reports. The Army estimates that authorized drug use is split roughly fifty percent between troops taking antidepressants and those taking prescription sleeping pills like Ambien.

But even medical professionals have their doubts about the practice. Dr. Frank Ochberg of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies asks, “Are we trying to bandage what is essentially an insufficient fighting force?” And Dr. Joseph Glenmullen of Harvard Medical School sees a link between army suicides and the use of antidepressant drugs. “The high percentage of US soldiers who attempt suicide after taking SSRIs should raise serious concerns,” he said.

For soldiers in the Middle East, an antidepressant may at first feel like welcome relief. But like a hidden sniper shot, the lethal damage of antidepressants can strike when you least expect it, and with potentially equal results: sudden violence, rage, or suicide. But unlike sniper fire, there’s one upside: As long as you’re still alive, a medical drug detox program can help you get off drugs safely.

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