Substance abuse among military personnel a growing problem, study finds

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18 2012 8:14 a.m. MDT

Military physicians wrote nearly 3.8 million prescriptions for pain medication in 2009.

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The use of military prescription medications has more than quadrupled in the last decade, according to the Institute of Medicine, which released a report citing the growing problem of substance abuse in the military. The report called for better prevention and treatment methods from the Department of Defense.

"Nearly 5 million prescriptions for pain medication, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, stimulants and barbiturates were provided to troops last year, up from less than a million in 2001, according to Pentagon data," USA Today reported.

The IOM report found that alcohol and underage drinking were major problems, as well as the increased use of prescription medication. The report outlines preventative measures to be implemented by the DoD, and calls on military leaders to limit access to certain medications and alcohol.

"About one in four soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan last year or about 63,000 GIs admitted they have a drinking problem, according to Pentagon data released this year" USA Today reported. "The committee report said the services operate substance abuse programs with little direction or accountability from the Pentagon and this needs to change."

The report called for the DoD to "consistently implement prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment services," and to focus on rehabilitation for military members.

There are many other ways to go about effectively addressing this problem, according to the IOM report.

"Among the panel's suggestions were overhauling the military health insurance program, Tricare, to cover standard therapies for substance abuse and to limit troops' access to alcohol on base," according to the Hill. "The IOM also suggested that the Defense Department routinely screen troops for alcohol abuse and provide the option for confidential treatment services."

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said military health officials "are in the process of analyzing (the committee's) findings and recommendations," reported USA Today, but the report asserts change is needed soon.

"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," Charles P. O'Brien, chairman of the IOM committee behind the report, told the Hill.

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