American Solders Losing War On Drugs
With Afghanistan reigning as the world’s largest producer and exporter of heroin, is it any surprise that our troops are coming back from the Middle East with “collateral damage” drug addictions?
“The US military claims that soldiers are regularly tested for drug use,” says Stephen Della Valle, author of the new addiction and recovery memoir Rising Above the Influence. “Yet, the Army and Air Force say that they had no positive tests for heroin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does that seem likely?”
Much like it was in Vietnam, military personnel serving in the Middle East today report long shifts and a lot of boredom, sometimes leading to experimentation with drugs. “And heroin is so easily available over there, especially in Afghanistan,” notes Mr. Della Valle. “You can get it pretty much anywhere.”
The Department of Defense reports that over 1.5 million veterans have served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, 119,000 have sought medical or mental health assistance through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans have reported suffering from many issues that could contribute to—or be caused by—the silent epidemic of drug use among soldiers, including:
Anger and aggression issues at a rate of twenty-two percent after deployment
A fifteen-percent divorce rate after combat deployment
Joblessness among fifteen percent of veterans between the age of twenty and twenty-four—that’s three times the national average
Low unit morale in Iraq reported by over fifty percent of soldiers
Concussions suffered by ten percent of troops during combat in Iraq, resulting in headaches, sleep disturbance, memory loss and behavior issues after coming home
“With all the pressure they’re under,” says Mr. Della Valle, “it’s easy to see why soldiers might turn to drug abuse. The problem is getting the military to admit that it’s a problem—and getting these soldiers and veterans the help that they need.”
Stephen Della Valle is president of the board of directors at Turning Point rehabilitation center in Verona, New Jersey. Currently celebrating twenty years of sobriety, he lives in Oak Ridge, New Jersey, with his wife, Donna. He has three children.
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