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Government’s Suicide Plan Sidesteps Suicide-Linked Drugs

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Soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division sit in an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training seminar, Aug. 13, 2009, in Fort Riley, Kan. Thousands of soldiers have returned from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental difficulties. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

It would be laughable if it weren’t tragic. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin introduced a plan to stem the nation’s growing suicide rate without addressing the growing use of suicide-linked drugs.

Antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil, antipsychotics like Seroquel and Zyprexa, and anti-seizure drugs like Lyrica and Neurontin are all linked to suicide in published reports and in FDA warnings. (Almost 5,000 newspaper reports link antidepressants to suicide, homicide, and bizarre behavior.) Asthma drugs like Singulair, antismoking drugs like Chantix, acne drugs like Accutane, and the still-in-use malaria drug Lariam are also linked to suicide.

Suicide increased more than 150 percent in the Army and more than 50 percent in the Marine Corps between 2001 and 2009.

After falling in the 1990s, the United States’ suicide rate has risen to 36,000 a year, says USA Today. The rise correlates with the debut of direct-to-consumer drug advertising in the late 1990s, the approval of many drugs with suicide links, and the use of psychoactive drugs for lifestyle problems.

Dr. Benjamin announced that federal grants totaling $55 million will save 20,000 lives in the next five years through suicide hotlines, more mental health workers in the Veterans Affairs system, better depression screening, and Facebook tracking of suicidal messages. Nowhere, including in the suicide-racked military, does she suggest looking at overmedication, which has gone hand-in-hand with the deaths.

A month earlier, it was announced the Army had awarded $3 million to a scientist to develop a thyroid-related nasal spray to combat suicidal thoughts, again ignoring overmedication.

Suicide increased more than 150 percent in the Army and more than 50 percent in the Marine Corps between 2001 to 2009, reported Military Times, displaying graphs of the suicide and prescription-drug increases that are similar enough to be laid over one another in the print edition.

One in six service members was on a psychoactive drug in 2010. And “many troops are taking more than one kind, mixing several pills in daily ‘cocktails,’ for example, an antidepressant with an antipsychotic to prevent nightmares, plus an anti-epileptic to reduce headaches—despite minimal clinical research testing such combinations,” according to Military Times.

Eighty percent of troops with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were given psychoactive drugs in fiscal year 2004. According to Navy Times, the number of psychiatric prescriptions filled rose 42 percent.

During the same time period, epilepsy drugs like Topamax and Neurontin, increasingly given off-label for mental conditions, increased 56 percent, Military Times reports. In 2008, 578,000 epilepsy pills and 89,000 antipsychotics were prescribed to deploying troops.

Nor is the suicide rate going down as troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. In July 2012, there were 38 Army suicides, says USA Today, and in July 2011, there were 32. According to the Army’s in-depth “Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Report” in 2010, 36 percent of the troops who killed themselves had never even deployed.

Why are such drugs, which affect reaction time, motor skills, coordination, attention, and memory, even allowed during active duty? And why are they prescribed to soldiers who are in the exact age group—young adults—that is most at risk for suicide, according to warning labels?

Nor are troops the only cash cows for Big Pharma. One in four women is on psychoactive drugs, according to published reports, and millions of children are on psychoactive drugs, especially the poor and those with disability status.

When the FDA first put suicide warnings on antidepressants for young people in the mid-2000s, Big Pharma engaged psychiatrists like Charles Nemeroff and argued that suicides would go up if doctors and patients were scared off by the black-box warnings. Though the argument was absurd (is the nation fat because fen-phen was withdrawn?), the theory got play in the mainstream and medical press until it was proven wrong.

The actions of the surgeon general and Health and Human Services show the government is still in denial about suicide and Big Pharma—the elephant in the room. Instead of spending millions on counselors, crisis lines, and “awareness campaigns,” why doesn’t the government look at the millions it’s spending on suicide-linked drugs?

Martha Rosenberg is a health reporter and author who lives in Chicago. More information about overmedication of troops and suicide-linked drugs may be found in her recently published “Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health.”

The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.


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