Helping our veterans win the battle against PTSD s

Jan. 7, 2013 Among the usual end-of-the-year stories, U.S. news outlets carried one that is a tragic coda as the country winds down the decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: In 2012, soldier-suicides surpassed combat deaths.

It’s a sobering statistic that drives home a sad fact: For too many of our veterans, the ravages of war are not left behind in-theater, but rage on when they’ve returned home, in the battle waged against post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As Stars and Stripes newspaper reported in the waning days of 2012: “The trajectory for soldier suicides keeps getting worse.” According to a report by the RAND Corp., 14 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets suffer symptoms associated with PTSD — ranging from headaches, irritability and insomnia to periods of rage or depression. RAND estimates another 14 percent suffer from chronic depression. While the Veterans Affairs Department has diagnosed more than 200,000 returning vets with PTSD, the RAND study suggests the number may be three times higher — more than 600,000.

To the extent that assisting these vets in their recovery and easing their re-entry into civilian life involves medication to battle mood and depressive disorders, the same pills that promise positive effects can at the darkest moment become the means of self-harm. While some seeking to combat soldier-suicide discuss ways to limit access to firearms, it’s easy to overlook a quite common weapon dispensed to the typical PTSD patient: When the situation seems too much to bear, a despondent vet has all he or she needs in the medicine cabinet or on the night table.

In the effort to deny a patient the ability to self-administer a lethal dose of prescription pills, it’s impractical to have patients shuttling back and forth to pharmacies for a few days’ worth of medication at a time — and in any case, patients taking multiple medications could simply empty every pill bottle all at once. But there are ways to administer medication that dispense with pills altogether. My company is one of several pioneering trans-dermal delivery systems — our system uses a unidose cream-based technology that delivers a tightly controlled dose of medication almost impossible to abuse. Attempts to overdose intentionally by applying multiple doses would require covering such a large part of the body as to be so impractical that it would be nearly impossible.

Our armed services health providers along with the VA are doing all they can to help our returning vets overcome the psychological wounds of warfare. It’s important to use every means available, and every medical advance, to help our vets heal.

Our veterans have fought for us, putting service above self. As a society, we must do all we can to help those who fought for our country win their personal battle against PTSD.