U.S. Troops Abusing Prescription Drugs

Last year the Pentagon surveyed more than 28,500 U.S. troops regarding their illegal drug abuse and the results were startling. Approximately 25% of soldiers admitted to abusing prescription drugs; mostly pain relievers. Approximately 20% of Marines also admitted to abusing prescription drugs in that same time period. 

The survey further revealed the most abused drugs in the military are pain relievers and that they are abused at a rate three times that of the other 2 most abused drugs: 

  • Marijuana; and
  • Amphetamines.

The last time a survey of this nature was conducted was 2005, although results cannot be fairly compared as different questions were used in the 2008 survey; the 2008 survey asked more pointed questions than earlier years. The comparison between the 2 studies is both discouraging and disappointing. In 2005: 

  • 4% of soldiers reported abusing painkillers in the 30 days prior to the survey; and
  • 10% of soldiers reported abusing painkillers abuse within the last year.

In 2008, the results were much different: 

  • 13% of soldiers reported abusing painkillers in the 30 days prior to the survey; and
  • 22% of soldiers reported abusing painkillers within the last year.

Other survey findings to note: 

  • In 2005 the percentage of troops reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was 7% and in 2008 it was 11%;
  • The 2 branches with the largest increases were the Army and the Marine Corps; the 2 branches doing the majority of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • Almost 60% of Marines confessed to binge drinking; and
  • Thoughts of suicide among service members during the prior year jumped from 1% to 2% from 2005 to 2008.

The Army is expanding programs focusing on education and treatment of drug abuse. The few available counselors currently on staff, however, prevent the program from being as effective as necessary.