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The Way We War Part II

An ex-soldier friend of mine once told me that modern warfare includes little to no psychotherapy; only drugs. “They pretty much just give out pills like candy and expect you to be fine.” In light of Robert Bales’ mass shooting of Afghan women and civilians, which many have attributed to untreated PTSD symptoms, it’s worth questioning the military’s medial care system.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in particular is something that soldiers have suffered from and continue to face, drawing on decades of the government’s historically frustrating tendency to limited action when particularly severe cases arise and even less to prevent these cases in the first place.  US wars in Irag and Afghanistan have faced a drastic increase in the number of PTSD cases since 2002, where rates jumped from 0.2% to 22% in the span of only six years. Psychiatrists like Richard Friedman have written (see today’s issue of the New York Times) on the possible causes of these increased rates, and have concluded that while prescription drugs are not wholly responsible they are an important part of the recovery process (or lack thereof) for active and inactive soldiers.

Ritalin and Adderall are two of the military’s most widely distributed prescription drugs because they “keep soldiers awake, focused, alert… and strengthen learning skills.” But norepinephrine, the active ingredient in both drugs, also stimulates memory formation especially in instances of heightened anxiety, fear, anger, and other emotions that are no so easily controlled. The more these drugs are taken, the more accessible the triggers of seemingly dormant PTSD symptoms are. Soldiers (and for that matter, any human being who takes these drugs and experiences some sort of trauma) therefore have those memories engrained in their subconscious and can easily recall them in situations that are seemingly unrelated to the original moment of trauma. This prevents traumatic ‘unlearning’ and can reverse the psychological ability to come to terms with past trauma and indeed make it impossible to recover.

Friedman asks an important question: why are we drugging our soldiers? The truth is, because it’s easier and probably cheaper for the government to hand out drugs than do the necessary research on what the effects are for long-time users of prescription stimulants. But at what cost? The way the military operates seems to hinge on quite a bit of secrecy and silence, and as long as war hangs around, it’s worth probing the ‘powers that be’ for some answers.

2 comments on “The Way We War Part II

  1. Gina Pera
    April 29, 2012

    Please allow me to offer another opinion, one that happens to be based on facts and years of knowledge.

    This “opinion” writer, Richard A. Friedman, has not one fact support his claims that the military is using these stimulants solely for nefarious purposes.

    The opinion ran in “Week in Review,” a section whose editors seem to “self-medicate” with provocatively wrong-headed stories about ADHD. I’ve learned it’s best to ignore such baseless, inflammatory opinions instead of re-posting or sharing them. Then maybe the New York Times, like the bully who goes away when you stop taking the bait, will cease this toxic traffic-boosting strategy.

    People with ADHD face big enough problems without “researchers” foisting such reckless “opinions” on the American public.

    This opinion writer, Richard A. Friedman, is a “mood disorders” researcher. I’ve never heard of him, and I doubt you have, either. But if you know anything about some not-so-well-known researchers, you know that they cannot abide another specialty cutting into their action, especially when it comes to grants, papers, or, what shall I call it, ego fulfillment? Never mind if they know nothing about the other specialty on which they are opining, as evidenced abundantly in Friedman’s sensationalistic meanderings. And never mind if their false conclusions create problems for innocent people.

    Among his many failures of fact and reason, Friedman fails to realize that many people with undiagnosed ADHD are drawn to the military for various reasons I won’t go into here. Schools around military bases have higher-than-average rates of children with ADHD. Not surprising, given that ADHD is 76% heritable. But no, he doesn’t realize this, so he must assume that higher prescription rates mean the medication is being used for nefarious purposes.

    Friedman has NO facts to support this. That doesn’t stop him from wildly leaping on the idea that stimulants are being used to promote alertness in troops who do not have ADHD. While there’s nothing new about that phenomenon, he offers not a shred of evidence that legitimate treatment rates alone don’t account for the recent increase in prescription rates. He dismisses the idea out of hand. Why, you would think he’s never read the literature. Hmmmm.

    The truth is, ADHD is finally being recognized more widely in all military branches, though enlightened attitudes around treatment still vary base to base, depending largely on the base commander’s awareness.

    For most members of the military, though, getting legitimate treatment for ADHD still presents huge obstacles, and many suffer because of it. Some are forced leave the service, cutting short promising careers, because they cannot both stay in the military and get much-needed medical treatment for their ADHD. Individuals and their families suffer. By re-printing Friedman’s nonsense or sharing the link to his unsubstantiated opinion, you are heaping more suffering on them. Moreover, you are encouraging the New York Times to print more of this traffic-spiking tripe.

    Without regard for repercussions – or possibly to meet the Week in Review editors’ apparently insatiable desire for targeting ADHD in its anti-psychiatry-obsessed crosshairs – Friedman has gotten attention for himself. And so-called progressives can get their anti-science knickers in a twist about “drugging” soldiers even as they ridicule creationists for their non-science savvy. What hypocrisy. Enough with your “evil Big Pharma.” Grow the hell up.

    The military already battles with higher-than-average rates of domestic violence and financial bankruptcy – both linked to untreated ADHD. More ignorance will only further entrench these problems.

    As both a journalist and an ADHD advocate, I am sickened by this careless opinion writer and the NYT’s insistence on posting more like it. But hey, it’s not like the paper had the facts when leading us into the Iran War, did it? I no longer believe anything I read in this paper. And if you want the facts about ADHD, you shouldn’t, either.

    Thank you

    Gina Pera, author
    Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2012 by in News and tagged , , .

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