In October, two soldiers stationed at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia died of apparent cocaine overdoses, according to published news reports.
The officers, who were roommates, were found dead within four days of each other.
This tragic situation is yet another reminder of the power of drugs to infect any segment of society. And while we don’t typically think of the men and women in our armed forces as vulnerable, in many ways they are.
Think, for a moment, what life in the military is like. They’re either in active combat—or face the possibility of active combat. They are separated from their loved ones. And they often face long periods of boredom.
Drugs in the Military
Drug use in the military is markedly different than it is in the rest of society, according to the 2008 Department of Defense Survey of Health Related Behaviors among Active Duty Military Personnel.
That survey found that illicit drug use (heroin, cocaine, etc.) is actually lower in the military than it is in the general population. In fact, just 2.3 percent of military personnel were past-month users of an illicit drug, compared with 12 percent of civilians.
A likely explanation for that is the military’s zero tolerance policy. Instituted in 1982, it’s enforced by frequent random drug testing. Service members who violate that policy face dishonorable discharge and even criminal prosecution.
Heavy alcohol use and prescription drugs, however, are much more widely abused. In 2008, 11 percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs (mostly opioids). And 47 percent of service members reported binge drinking at least once a month.
Even worse is that, in 2008, the U.S. Army suicide rate surpassed the civilian rate. By 2009, it was found that prescription drug use was involved in almost one-third of these suicides.
What Can Be Done?
A 2012 report prepared for the Department of Defense by the Institute of Medicine sought to answer that question.
Suggestions included increasing efforts to prevent addiction, expanding access to care, better equipping healthcare providers to recognize and screen for substance use problem and limiting the availability of alcohol on bases.
But, perhaps even more importantly, is the other big change that the report says is needed. It states that solving the problem will require “shifting a cultural climate in which drug problems are stigmatized and evoke fear in people suffering from them.”
Sound familiar? Many voices have been saying for a long, long time that the stigma of addiction has to go.
We may never know why those two servicemen used cocaine. But we do know that they could have been helped—and that people are more likely to seek help when they’re not afraid of the consequences.
Hope at The Raleigh House
The Raleigh House is a residential treatment center located in Denver that believes addiction isn’t just a physical problem. Our team of doctors, therapists, nurses and even a nutritionist knows how to best help—and give hope to—those in recovery for drug or alcohol abuse. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about the drug or alcohol addiction treatment program at The Raleigh House.