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PolitiFact: General's statistic on Army pain prescriptions is true, if alarming

The statement

"About 106,000 soldiers had "a prescription of three weeks or more" for pain, depression or anxiety medication.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Sunday on ABC News' This Week.

The ruling

The U.S. Army needs to take steps to curb a growing rate of suicide among soldiers, a new study concludes. Gen. Peter Chiarelli discussed this Sunday on ABC News' This Week.

The study documented complex pressures that led to a higher suicide rate: long deployments, more tolerance for high-risk behavior and lax standards for keeping tabs on troops. Another factor: prescription antidepressants, antianxiety drugs and pain medications.

"We know that we had over 106,000 soldiers last year who had a prescription of three weeks or more for some kind of antidepressant, antianxiety medicine," Chiarelli said. "A portion of those 106,000 soldiers that I told you are on some kind of pain medication, it has nothing to do with a behavior health issue,'' he added.

Troops deployed for the second, third or fourth time are lugging gear in mountainous terrain and use pain medication to function despite knee and leg injuries that need medical attention, he said.

Chiarelli was referring to information in the Army's Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention Report, released Aug. 5. It says that historically, the Army's suicide rate has been much lower than that of the civilian population. But the Army's rate began increasing in 2004 and surpassed the national average in 2008, when the suicide rate in the Army was 20.2 per 100,000, compared with a typical civilian rate of 19.2.

In fiscal 2009, "160 active duty soldiers took their lives,'' making suicide the third leading cause of death, the study states. The study goes on to say that when accidental deaths are figured in, often caused by risky behavior like drinking and driving, fewer troops "die in combat than die by their own actions. … We are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy."

The study confirms Chiarelli's statistic: "approximately 106,000 Soldiers are prescribed some form of pain, depression or anxiety medications. The potential for abuse is obvious."

The report raises a host of issues, but we're only ruling on what the general said about the rate of medication among soldiers. The report backs up Chiarelli's statement that about 106,000 soldiers had "a prescription of three weeks or more" for pain, depression or anxiety medication. We rate his claim True.

PolitiFact: General's statistic on Army pain prescriptions is true, if alarming 08/11/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 10:32pm]
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