When Senior Airman Anthony Mena was found dead in his apartment, he had eight prescription medications in his blood, including three antidepressants, a sleeping pill, a sedative, and two powerful painkillers—but it was the combination of those drugs that killed him, not his own hand. The US military's medical system is flooded with prescription drugs, and the results sometimes can be deadly, claiming the lives of 101 soldiers between 2006 and 2009, reports the New York Times. “I’m not a doctor, but there is something inside that tells me the fewer of these things we prescribe, the better off we’ll be,” said one military official.
“These decisions about medication are difficult enough in civilian psychiatry, but unfortunately in this very-high-stress population, there is almost no data to guide you,” says a Duke psychiatrist. “The psychiatrist is trying everything and to some extent is flying blind.” With more than 300,000 troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, depression, or some combination thereof, military doctors have turned to psychiatric drugs in greater numbers than ever. “He survived over there,” says the father of a marine who died at a Navy hospital from his prescription drugs. “Coming home and dying in a hospital? It’s a disgrace.”