Late Breaking News
New DoD Study Points to Pluses and Minuses in Health-Related Behaviors
- Categorized in: January 2010
WASHINGTON, DC—Results of a new DoD study suggest that many servicemembers are struggling with prescription drug misuse.
The 2008 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel asked servicemembers about whether they had misused prescription drugs. The Army had the highest rate, with 23% of servicemembers who said they had misused prescription drugs in the 12 months prior to taking the survey, followed by 19% of Marine Corps servicemembers, and 16% of Navy servicemembers. The Air Force had the lowest of the DoD services with 13%.
When asked about misusing prescription drugs in the previous month, about 15% of soldiers reported to misusing drugs, followed by 11% of Marines and 9% of Navy servicemembers. Comparatively, about 7% of airmen said they had done so.
Prescription drug misuse was defined in the study as the nonmedical use of prescription-type amphetamines/stimulants (including any use of methamphetamine), tranquilizers/muscle relaxers, barbiturates/sedatives, or pain relievers.
In all, the survey found that when asked about past prescription drug misuse in the last 30 days military rates doubled from 2% in 2002 to 4% in 2005, and almost tripled from 2005 to 2008, going from 4% to 11%. However, the study authors also stated that it is difficult to make a comparison of the 2005 and 2008 estimates to prior years due to changes in drug use question wording in the 2005 and 2008 questionnaires, and that some of the uptick may be a result of these changes.
In a conference call with reporters last month regarding the survey, DoD officials expressed concern about prescription drug abuse. Dr Jack Smith, DoD deputy assistant secretary of defense for Clinical and Program Policy, said that prescription drug abuse appears to be a nationwide trend in the US and is something that DoD needs “to give greater scrutiny to.” “This phenomenon of an abuse of prescription drugs seems to be an increasingly common issue, which we have seen pretty clearly in this survey,” he said.
Survey of Health
The survey polled more than 28,500 servicemembers from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy, and is the 10th in a series of surveys of active duty personnel conducted over the years. Questions in the survey were designed to assess substance abuse, mental well-being, deployment issues, fitness, nutrition, and weight management. RTI International, a nonprofit research organization, conducted the survey. “These data are briefed to senior leaders and the study has been made available to the Services. These are useful in crafting educational programs and in advising leadership about the kinds of issues that their servicemembers may be dealing with,” said Smith.
Among the findings, the study cited that heavy drinking, defined as drinking five or more drinks per occasion at least once a week, was at 20% in 2008, remaining at about the same level as 2005 (19%). Military personnel aged 18 to 25 showed significantly higher rates of heavy drinking (26%) than did civilians (16%) in the 2008 survey. Among those aged 46 to 64, military personnel exhibited lower rates of heavy alcohol use (4%) than did civilians (9%).
The survey stated that the “rate of heavy drinking in 2008 was not significantly different from the rate in 1980, suggesting that military efforts to reduce rates of heavy drinking have not been successful overall. The survey authors said that “new and more effective initiatives will be needed to reduce heavy alcohol use.”
Smith said that heavy drinking among young people is an area that DoD has been working to address. “We are still seeking ways to turn the tide on that with our younger military personnel,” he acknowledged. Among its efforts was a campaign launched in 2007 called the “That Guy” campaign. It specifically addresses the rising rate of binge drinking among junior enlisted personnel.
When it comes to cigarette smoking, the survey found that 30.5% of those surveyed in DoD said they had smoked in the past month. The rate of heavy smoking has decreased steadily from a high of 34% in 1980 to a low of 10% in 2008, according to the survey.
Another issue tackled in the survey was suicide attempts. Respondents were asked whether they had attempted suicide in the past year. In 2008, an estimated 2.2% of DoD personnel reported attempting suicide within the past year, which was more than double the rate of suicide attempts in 2005. The rate of suicide attempts for 2008 was higher in the Navy (2.8%) than in the Army (2.0%), Air Force (1.6%), or Coast Guard (1.7%). “We’ve seen increases in suicide rates over the last several years, and that is certainly something that is getting a great deal of attention by our senior leadership across the Services. I think that this data is consistent with what we are seeing there. We are taking efforts to ramp up suicide prevention programs,” Smith stated.
The survey also had some good news for DoD officials. More than 70% of the people surveyed said that they were either satisfied or highly satisfied with their job assignments. In addition, Smith pointed out that there was a decline in overall weight, and an increase in self reported exercise activity among servicemembers. “There was good news on the weight aspect that seems to show a decline, as well as an increase in self-reported exercise activity, which has benefits for both stress control and weight control,” he said.
Among all DoD service personnel under age 20, the percentage classified as overweight according to BMI increased from 28% in 1995 to 45% in 2005, before dropping to 35% in 2008. The combined prevalence of self-reported moderate or vigorous physical activity among DoD service personnel increased from 77% in 2005 to 83% in 2008.