A new study says increasing abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs by service members is a public health crisis that the Pentagon must acknowledge.
According to a report in USA Today on the study, an Institute of Medicine panel found nearly 5 million prescriptions for pain medication, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, stimulants and barbiturates were provided to troops last year, up from fewer than a million in 2001.
The panel cites statistics showing opiate pain medication abuse increasing in the military from 2% to 11% from 2005 to 2008, the latest data available.
The problem was worse in the Army, which has borne much of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. There, one in four soldiers admitted in 2008 to abusing prescription drugs during a one-year period. The panel cited data showing that binge drinking –consuming five drinks in one setting — is 50% higher among servicemembers ages 18-35 than among civilians. Nearly 60% of Marines engage in binge drinking.
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. The services operate substance-abuse programs with little direction or accountability from the Pentagon and this needs to change, the committee report says.