Health panel: Pentagon must combat troops’ drug, alcohol abuse

The Defense Department is not doing enough to curb substance abuse among military service members, especially those on active duty, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) said Monday.

As rates of binge drinking and prescription drug abuse rise among military personnel, the Pentagon must employ a range of new strategies to tackle the problem, the IOM said in a report.

Among the panel's suggestions were overhauling the military health insurance program, Tricare, to cover standard therapies for substance abuse and limiting troops' access to alcohol on base.

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The IOM also suggested that the Defense Department routinely screen troops for alcohol abuse and provide the option for confidential treatment services.

The report came at the request of members of Congress, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who pushed to investigate allegations of rising drug abuse at Fort Leonard Wood in 2008.

The IOM found that the share of active-duty troops who reported binge drinking rose from 35 percent in 1998 to 47 percent in 2008. The rate of prescription drug abuse, while still low, rose sharply between 2002 and 2008, from 2 to 11 percent, according to the report. 

In a statement, the chairman of the IOM committee behind the report said the Pentagon faces "many ongoing challenges" with regard to service members' substance abuse.

"Better care for service members and their families is hampered by inadequate prevention strategies, staffing shortages, lack of coverage for services that are proved to work, and stigma associated with these disorders," Charles P. O'Brien said.