Cardin Calls for Probe of Military Suicides and Antidepressant Use
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland called Wednesday for a government-funded investigation into possible links between the growing use of anti-depressants by members of the military and high rates of suicide among men and women in uniform.
The Democratic senator, in remarks to a Senate Armed Services subcommittee, said that only "a proper scientific study" can determine whether "DOD is prescribing anti-depressants to its service members appropriately."
Cardin quoted from the most recent Defense department statistics, covering 2005 to 2008, which showed a 400 percent increase in prescriptions for antidepressants and other drugs used to combat anxiety. The senator called those numbers "disturbing."
At the same time, other government figures have reflected a significant increase in suicides among those in uniform. For example, in 2009, there were 160 suicides among active-duty members of the U.S. Army, a 15 percent increase over 2008.
Cardin called the number of suicides "unprecedented" and asked whether there was a relationship between the use of antidepressants and "the alarming rate of suicides" in the military.
He said the Food and Drug Administration has expressed concerns about many of the same drugs prescribed routinely for troops battling anxiety and depression. The FDA's interest has led drug manufacturers to revise warning labels on their products to indicate that young adults, ages 18 to 24, may be at "elevated risk of suicidal thought and behavior while using these medications," said Cardin.
Roughly two in five U.S. servicemen and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq fall into the 18-24 age bracket, the senator said. About two in five Army suicide victims in 2006 and 2007 were believed to have taken anti-depressants, Cardin added.
Cardin succeeded in getting the Senate to insert an amendment on the issue into a Defense measure last year, but it was removed before Congress approved the legislation. There will be another attempt made this year, according to his office, to have Congress authorize a scientific study of possible links between military suicides and a range of antidepressants, sleeping pills and other narcotics prescribed to combat troops.
At the hearing, Cardin renewed his call for the Senate to consider requiring the Defense department to deliver an annual disclosure of "the extent to which it is employing antidepressant medications to treat the wartime stress and overall mental health of our service men and women.”