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In a small but increasing number of cases, lawyers defending soldiers are blaming the U.S. military’s heavy use of psychotropic drugs for their clients’ abnormal behavior and related health issues, according to the Los Angeles Times.

More than 110,000 active-duty Army troops were taking prescribed antidepressants, narcotics, antipsychotics, sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs in 2011, the newspaper reports. Almost 8 percent of the active-duty Army is now taking sedatives, and more than 6 percent is on antidepressants. This represents an eightfold increase since 2005.

Bart Billings, a former military psychologist who hosts an annual conference on combat stress, told the newspaper, “We have never medicated our troops to the extent we are doing now. And I don’t believe the current increase in suicides and homicides in the military is a coincidence.”

The military environment poses challenges to regulating the use of prescription drugs, some experts say. There are few follow-up appointments in the battlefield. Soldiers are given 180 days’ worth of medication when they are deployed. This allows them to trade the pills, or take fistfuls of pills at a time. Injured soldiers easily can become dependent on opioids.

“The big difference is these are people who have access to loaded weapons, or have responsibility for protecting other individuals who are in harm’s way,” said Grace Jackson, a former Navy staff psychiatrist.

The U.S. military services will expand their drug testing programs to include commonly abused prescription drugs beginning on May 1. The Department of Defense testing program will now include hydrocodone and benzodiazepines. Service members who have prescriptions for hydrocodone or benzodiazepines will not be subject to disciplinary action for using them as prescribed.

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