Reporting on the rising number of soldiers coping with substance abuse problems, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) said Monday that the Pentagon should give soldiers access to drug rehab services as part of their standard issue health care.
"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, chair of the committee that wrote the IOM's report, said in prepared text. "This report recommends solutions to address each of these concerns."
The report noted that the number of soldiers who abuse prescription drugs more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2008, going from 2 percent to 11 percent. The IOM also found that nearly 50 percent of soldiers reported binge drinking in 2008, an all-time high, leading them to recommend that the Pentagon begin confronting the problem of alcohol in military culture.
"Making [alcohol] screening and intervention services part of primary care would reduce the stigma associated with seeking substance abuse treatment and increase the number of places where service members and families can get basic care for these disorders," the report says.
Substance abuse, including heavy drinking, is often linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which the military has focused on in its suicide prevention efforts. "Easier access to providers and better management of substance use disorders could improve detection and care for related conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts," the IOM concludes. "Substance misuse and abuse frequently occur along with these conditions. Rising suicide rates among both active duty personnel and veterans have alarmed the public and government officials."
Army officials said that August 2012 saw the most soldier suicides out of any month since the Pentagon began reporting the numbers. Military officials said it has become so severe that more American soldiers have committed suicide this year than those who've died fighting the war in Afghanistan.
Monday's IOM report was launched after Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) successfully amended the National Defense Authorization Act in 2009 to require that the Pentagon review its substance abuse programs and issue a report.
A Pentagon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
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