According to an op-ed entitled “Why Are We Drugging Our Soldiers?” in the New York Times by Richard A. Friedman, “the number of Ritalin and Adderall prescriptions written for active-duty service members increased by nearly 1,000 percent in five years.” Might this explain, in part at least, the shortages of Ritalin and Adderall that have plagued students nationwide?
Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been a large and steady rise in the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among our troops. One recent study of 289,000 Americans who served in those countries found that the rates of the disorder jumped to 22 percent in 2008 from just 0.2 percent in 2002.
Given the duration of these wars and the length and frequency of deployments, when compared with other wars, perhaps such high rates of PTSD are not so surprising. Prolonged exposure to a perilous and uncertain combat environment might make trauma common.
But there is another factor that might be playing a role in the increasing rates of the disorder, one that has escaped attention: the military’s use of stimulant medications, like Ritalin and Adderall, in our troops.
There has been a significant increase in the use of stimulant medication. Documents that I obtained in late 2010 through the Freedom of Information Act, and have recently analyzed, show that annual spending on stimulants jumped to $39 million in 2010 from $7.5 million in 2001 — more than a fivefold increase. Additional data provided by Tricare Management Activity, the arm of the Department of Defense that manages health care services for the military, reveals that the number of Ritalin and Adderall prescriptions written for active-duty service members increased by nearly 1,000 percent in five years, to 32,000 from 3,000.
Stimulants are widely used in the civilian population to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder because they increase focus and attention. Short of an unlikely epidemic of that disorder among our soldiers, the military almost certainly uses the stimulants to help fatigued and sleep-deprived troops stay alert and awake. (A spokesman for Tricare attributed the sharp rise to “the increased recognition and diagnosis of A.D.H.D. by medical providers.” However, while there is greater recognition of the disorder, the diagnoses are concentrated in children and adolescents.)…
[continues in the New York Times]
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