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Are Soldiers Suicides Caused by Prescription Drugs?

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The suicide rate among troops is astonishing.

In 2009 there were 160 active duty suicides, 239 suicides within the total Army including the Reserves, 146 active duty deaths from drug overdoses and high risk behavior and 1,713 suicide attempts, says the Army's suicide report, released in July.

Not only are more troops dying from their own hand than combat says the Army report, titled Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention, 36 percent of the suicides were troops who were never deployed.

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Also astonishing is the psychoactive drug rate among active duty-aged troops, 18 to 34, which is up 85 percent since 2003 according to the military health plan, Tricare. Since 2001, 73,103 prescriptions for Zoloft have been dispensed, 38,199 for Prozac, 17,830 for Paxil and 12,047 for Cymbalta says Tricare 2009 data, which includes family prescriptions. All of the drugs carry a suicide warning label.

In addition to the leap in SSRI antidepressants, prescriptions for the anticonvulsants Topamax and Neurontin rose 56 percent in the same group since 2005 says Navy Times, drugs which the FDA warned last year double suicidal thinking in patients.

In fact 4,994 troops at Fort Bragg are on antidepressants right now says the Fayetteville Observer. Six hundred and sixty-four are on an antipsychotics and "many soldiers take more than one type of medication."

Troops may also be taking Chantix, an antismoking drug so linked to violence and self-harm Secretary of the VA, James Peake was forced to defend its use before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs in 2008 even in drug trials. "If you know the drug induces suicidal thoughts," an unappeased Committee chair Bob Filner D-Ca. asked Rep. Filner," Why don't you just stop?"

Even widely prescribed asthma drugs like Singulair and Advair are linked to suicide says the FDA and have been cited in young people's deaths.

And who knows what happens when the drugs are mixed with mood stabilizers, insomnia and pain pills and antianxiety and antipsychotic pills, combinations which have never been tested for safety?

Links between suicide and even murder-suicide and SSRI and SNRI antidepressants have been long recognized.

Traci Johnson, a healthy 19-year-old with no mental problems, hung herself during Lilly trials of Cymbalta in the drugmaker's own clinic in 2004. Columbine shooter Eric Harris had reportedly just switched from Zoloft to Luvox. Red Lake shooter Jeff Weise who killed 10 on a Minnesota Indian reservation in 2005 had just upped his Prozac. And the Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was also on psychoactive medications say news reports.

Yet even though Amercians have doubled their antidepressants since 1999 so that 10 percent of the population or 27 million now take them suicides have climbed by five percent since 1999 and 16 percent in middle aged adults says an article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2008.

In fact, the high percentage of civilian suicides on psychoactive drugs is probably the clearest indication that military life is not the only cause of the shocking troop suicides: In September alone, there were 18 civilian suicides, 11 murders, 2 murder suicides and other violence linked to people who were using or had used antidepressants, according to published reports. http://www.ssristories.com/index.php?sort=what&p=recent

A 54-year-old respiratory patient with a breathing tube and an oxygen tank and no previous criminal record held up a bank in Mobile. She had gone off her antidepressants.

An enraged man in Australia, also off his antidepressants, chased his mailman and threatened to cut his throat...for bringing him junk mail.

And a 58-year-old Amarillo man with no criminal history tried to abduct three people, killing an Oklahoma grandmother in the process. He had "an antidepressant in his blood," said police.

Also in the thirty day period, a 60-year-old grandmother in Seattle killed three family members and herself; a disc jockey in Bristol, UK set himself on fire; and a man in Exeter, UK man was determined to have stabbed himself in the heart. All were on antidepressants.

Finally, in the month of September, legal proceedings began against two mothers and a father charged with killing their own children.

Over 4,000 published reports of violent and bizarre behavior of people affected by antidepressants on the web archive ssristories.com reveal the same out of character violence and self harm in civilians, currently seen in the military.

Twenty people set themselves on fire. Ten bit their victims (including a biter who was sleepwalking and a woman, on Prozac, who bit her 87-year-old mother into critical condition.) Three men in the 70s and 80s attack their wives with hammers. Many stab their victims obsessively - one even stabs furniture after killing his wife - and 14 parents drown their children, a crime seldom heard of before the 2001 Andrea Yates case. Yates drowned her five children on the antidepressant Effexor which manufacturer Wyeth (now Pfizer) "issued no public warning" about says the Associated Press.

Then there's the North Carolina pilot on Zoloft who sings, "I'm going down for the last time," into the cockpit voice recorder before he crashes his plane in June. And the Mayor of Coppell, Texas, Jayne Peters who kills herself and her daughter in July over the grief of losing her husband. Police find antidepressants at the home.

Such murder-suicides committed by women used to be rare says Betty Henderson the web site's moderator and researcher. "Before the SSRI antidepressants, women committed five percent of the murder-suicides and now they account for almost 15 percent of this type of violence," she said in an AlterNet interview.

Antidepressants are also causing women to become neo sexual predators says Henderson. "There have been more than a dozen recent cases of women school teachers molesting their young students under the influence or withdrawal of antidepressants. Who heard of this type of sexual aberration before the antidepressant craze?"

Why don't doctors and media outlets publicize the names of these volatile drugs?

It's a good questions said Dr. Gary Kohls, a Minnesota family practitioner, in an oped written after Iraq veteran Matthew Magdzas killed his pregnant wife, their 13-month-old daughter, their dogs and himself in Wisconsin in August.

"Nobody in the media has, to my knowledge, had the courage to report what the drugs were, nor have they interviewed the physician or his clinic to find out the rationale for prescribing drugs that have common violence-inducing effects (with black box warnings stating that in the prescribing information)," he writes. "Therefore nothing has been learned from this important teachable moment, probably because revealing the common reality of prescription drug-induced violence would be economically harmful for the sacred cows of Big Pharma and Big Medicine."

Still, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. called the one of every six troops who are now on psychoactive drugs "pretty astounding and also very troubling," in Senate hearings this year and Retired Col. Bart Billings, a former Army psychologist who has also testified before Congress, says, "I feel flat out that psychiatrists are directly responsible for deaths in our military, for some of these suicides," in a March Marine Times article. "I think it's criminal, what they are doing."

Even Katie Bagosy, the wife of Marine Sgt. Tom Bagosy who took his own life in May indicts the Neurontin medication he was prescribed for his downfall.

"He told me, 'It all started to get worse when I got on this medication.' Looking back, that was the beginning of the end," she says in an article called A Prescription For Tragedy in the current National Journal.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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