Division addresses the dangers of too many prescriptions

6 Dec 2012 | Sgt. Steve Cushman

A Marine returning from combat begins to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress and seeks help from his battalion aid station. The personnel at BAS prescribe him medications to help him sleep and give him a referral to a psychiatrist.


While receiving treatment from the psychiatrist, he receives a prescription for an anti-depressant. Later the Marine visits the dentist to have wisdom teeth removed and receives a prescription for a narcotic to ease the pain. Suddenly the substances, that were supposed to help the Marine, become a potentially deadly cocktail, especially if mixed with alcohol.


“During the last few years, there has been a lot of use of prescription medications, much of it appropriate use,” said Cmdr. Neal Heimer, the division surgeon for 2nd Marine Division. “People assume that if a doctor prescribes the medication, that it’s safe to take.”


According to the Medical Officer to the Marine Corps, Rear Adm. Michael H. Anderson, 11 percent of Marines are taking at least 1 type of medication called psychotropics, and an even smaller percentage are taking multiple psychotropics.


“Even though the percentages are small, this still equals hundreds of Marines,” he said. “These medications are very effective in a well-controlled, therapeutic environment.”


In order to combat the growing problem of multiple drug prescriptions that could endanger the individual Marine, the Controlled Substance Program, stemming from Commanding General Policy Letter 12-08, was started to educate the Marines on the medications they are receiving.


“Anyone who is written a prescription for a controlled medicine, according to the (Drug Enforcement Administration’s) schedule, is required to bring it to the unit’s aid station so they can be counseled on the risks associated with that medication,” said Heimer. “Many times, if you have multiple doctors involved, everyone assumes that all the doctors are talking and know what the others are doing, that is incorrect.”


The biggest three players in prescription overdoses are alcohol, narcotic pain medications and valium-like, anti-anxiety medications.


“All three players are respiratory depressants, which means it decreases the nervous system’s ability to breathe,” said Heimer. “Many times the Marines take these medications mixed with alcohol and go to sleep and never wake up, they simply stopped breathing.”


According to Heimer, Brig. Gen James W. Lukeman, recently spoke about non-hostile fatalities and said, “Marines were more likely to die in 2nd Marine Division aboard Camp Lejeune, than in Afghanistan.”


“Overdoses are a big part of those non-hostile fatalities,” said Heimer. “Marines who find themselves with multiple prescriptions need to go see their unit’s aid station.”