Congress told Army will stem overuse of prescription drugs

| April 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

Army leaders answer Congressional queries about Soldier prescription abuse, suicide, mental health

Story and Photo by
C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service

WASHINGTON — Overuse of prescription painkillers by Soldiers, as reported recently in the civilian press, may be the result of seemingly unrelenting deployments to both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Speaking before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George Casey Jr. attributed a rise in prescription painkiller use among Soldiers to the ongoing conflict.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh, left, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George Casey Jr. confer before a March 23 hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. They discussed, among other things, prescription pain killer use among Soldiers.It’s “part of the cumulative effects of eight-and-a-half years at war,” Casey told legislators. “It’s something — not a pretty thing — something we need to get on the table and deal with.”

A recent article in USA Today said that prescriptions for painkillers to military members has increased by four times since 2001 — from just under 900,000 in 2001, to nearly 4 million in 2009.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh told lawmakers it is possible that Soldiers, like those in the civilian community, end up seeing multiple doctors and are in turn getting multiple prescriptions. He also noted the distinction between such a situation being deliberate or by chance.

In theater, shopping for physicians is limited due to the concentration of Soldiers and the number of doctors available. But still, in theater, “tracking systems are not as reliable as they are here in CONUS,” he said.
The major concern is stateside.

In Warrior Transition Units, where the most wounded Soldiers reside and the need for pain management is most needed, the Army has made efforts to more accurately track prescription drugs.

“We have established a program whereby all prescriptions in a WTU go through a single reporting source,” McHugh said, “So we have that opportunity to make sure that multiple prescriptions designed to do the same things are not finding themselves into a particular patient.”

McHugh said he isn’t ready to say how effective the program is now, but that the Army is moving “in the right direction.”

Legislators also asked Casey and McHugh about the suicide rate among Soldiers.

Casey said young Americans brought into the Army often do not possess the “coping skills to deal with the challenges we’re asking them to deal with.”

A response to that is the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program.

To date, some 380,000 Soldiers have taken the program’s assessment to help determine their strengths and weakness in five key areas of fitness.

The Army has also trained 800 “Master Resilience Trainers.”

“We want to bring mental fitness up to the same level we give physical fitness,” Casey said.

Category: Army News Service, Community

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *