Treatment for PTSD may be killing veterans

Associated Press reports:

Andrew White returned from a nine-month tour in Iraq beset with signs of post-traumatic stress disorder: insomnia, nightmares, constant restlessness. Doctors tried to ease his symptoms using three psychiatric drugs, including a potent anti-psychotic called Seroquel.

Thousands of soldiers suffering from PTSD have received the same medication over the last nine years, helping to make Seroquel one of the Veteran Affairs Department’s top drug expenditures and the No. 5 best-selling drug in the nation.

Several soldiers and veterans have died while taking the pills, raising concerns among some military families that the government is not being up front about the drug’s risks. They want Congress to investigate.

In White’s case, the nightmares persisted. So doctors recommended progressively larger doses of Seroquel. At one point, the 23-year-old Marine corporal was prescribed more than 1,600 milligrams per day — more than double the maximum dose recommended for schizophrenia patients.

A short time later, White died in his sleep.

“He was told if he had trouble sleeping he could take another (Seroquel) pill,” said his father, Stan White, a retired high school principal.

Activist, Vince Boehm, communicated with the Whites and told Beyond Meds:

Stan and Shirley White lost two sons to war. Robert White, a staff sergeant, was killed in Afghanistan in 2005, when his Humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. But the death of Robert’s younger brother Andrew, who survived Iraq only to succumb to a different battle, is in some ways “harder to accept” says his father.

Struggling with PTSD compounded by grief over the death of his brother, Andrew sought help from VA doctors. Their first line of defense was to prescribe him 20 mg of Paxil, 4 mg of Klonopin and 50 mg of Seroquel. These medications helped at first, but later proved ineffective. Instead of changing the course of treatment, the doctors responded by continually increasing his dosage until the Seroquel alone reached a whopping 1600 mg per day. Within weeks of Andrew’s death, three more young West Virginia veterans died while being treated for PTSD with the same drugs, prompting Stan and Shirley White to begin a mission to find out what the deaths have in common.

Earlier this year, Martha Rosenberg reported on the same deadly cocktail being used to treat PTSD:

Sgt. Eric Layne’s death was not pretty.

A few months after starting a drug regimen combining the antidepressant Paxil, the mood stabilizer Klonopin and a controversial anti-psychotic drug manufactured by pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, Seroquel, the Iraq war veteran was “suffering from incontinence, severe depression [and] continuous headaches,” according to his widow, Janette Layne.

Soon he had tremors. ” … [H]is breathing was labored [and] he had developed sleep apnea,” Layne said.

Janette Layne, who served in the National Guard during Operation Iraqi Freedom along with her husband, told the story of his decline last year, at official FDA hearings on new approvals for Seroquel. On the last day of his life, she testified, Eric stayed in the bathroom nearly all night battling acute urinary retention (an inability to urinate). He died while his family slept.

Sgt. Layne had just returned from a seven-week inpatient program at the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati where he was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A video shot during that time, played by his wife at the FDA hearings, shows a dangerously sedated figure barely able to talk.

Sgt. Layne was not the first veteran to die after being prescribed medical cocktails including Seroquel for PTSD.

In the last two years, Pfc. Derek Johnson, 22, of Hurricane, West Virginia; Cpl. Andrew White, 23, of Cross Lanes, West Virginia; Cpl. Chad Oligschlaeger, 21, of Roundrock, Texas; Cpl. Nicholas Endicott, 24, of Pecks Mill, West Virginia; and Spc. Ken Jacobs, 21, of Walworth, New York have all died suddenly while taking Seroquel cocktails.

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  1. I work with in adult foster care with vulnerable individuals, many of whom are prescribed some of the drugs mentioned, especially Seroquel and Klonopin. The doses cited in the articles are many times higher than I have ever seen prescribed, even for for individuals with severe psychotic conditions.

    It never ceases to amaze me that the military promises so much attract young people into its ranks, and then routinely chews them up and spits them out without much of a though. Hundreds of thousands of these veterans return with psychological damage that will continue to affect them and their families for the rest of their lives. When pharmaceuticals cannot do the trick, the answer is only to prescribe higher doses and a shrug of the shoulders. So much for military honor.

  2. DE Teodoru says:

    Admiral McCullen told Congress in 2008, Bush-it’s last year in power: “IN AFGHANISTAN WE DO WHAT WE CAN….IN IRAQ WE DO WHAT WE MUST”—AND NOW WHAT WE CAN BECOMES WHAT WE MUST, SO WAR NEVER ENDS!

    The pharmacopoeia for PTSD is a psychedelic cornucopia that at “safe” doses does little but overburden the liver. PTSD is treated symptomatically as we know very little about how the brain works. Essentially, we know PTSD as a stress burden disorder. But does a soldier under repeated stress spikes suffer more than a “hyped” cannibalistic corporate stooge treating everyday like “today’s the day that I rocket up to the top by eating the guys above me”?

    The brain is designed to bear stress. But the soldier in brief firefights of automatic fire, where thousands of bullets fly around and ricochet, exists like a ball in a lottery machine turning not like a rational individual performing a professional job in a way that has predictable results? In fact, a soldier is like dust in the wind, blown around by every gust; that can be seen from how small an enemy can keep such a big war going for so long. When a soldiers comes to see his “down time”– that infernal never ending period when he’s forever suffering from “nothing’s happening” while his adrenal glands are focused on the ever present “rush” that the next second begins the last second of his life in a hail of bullets– he has never time for his brain to settle down in REM sleep. He was trained to know that if he relaxes the wrong muscle he might becomes helpless hamburger meat as if in a slaughterhouse of dumb helpless cattle. His goal is to be the protector of himself and his buddies. And so there is no “down” time, only a desperate search for distraction from that tensed-up feeling. Should he succeed to sleep, awakening is a sharp moment of utter panic and disorientation. Should someone take a bullet, that argument for perpetual tense-spring existence is irrevocably imprinted in his mind. With “stop loss” our military owns soldiers ad perpetuum. That means they become killers until killed– even if back home in bed– just like the guerrillas they fight. For an American raised to the idea that there’s a time for this and a time for that compartmentalized existence, the Third World notion that there’s only a time to kill and a time to be killed makes him insane. The only cure is not high dose benzodiazepines and anti-depressants but ending these wars that lose all other purpose but to kill. Our military technology only gets better at killing more and faster, not at protecting anyone. And so we’re seen by all mankind as the hightech cowards who kill out of fear. Seen that way we only engender anger and hate in peoples we seek to dominate, not compliant fear. We are the victims of the Pentagon’s “star whores,” generals who rise up in stars on the piled cadavers of their troops. America has become like the French Army in WW I except that our enemies are inventions of our politicians as “irregulars” who “hate our way of life and freedoms.” That’s Bush-it!

  3. Indirectly pertinent is the revelation of the recently ‘to be canned’ Canadian veterans’ affairs ombudsman, who was told by a top bureaucrat that the department preferred soldiers to be killed rather than return wounded to become a burden on the system. I have no doubt that the same attitude is prevalent in the US administration.
    I can only suggest that reading reports like these above should be mandatory for any young person contemplating joining the military.

  4. Sergeant Ryan Russo, Marine Corp 1999-2003.
    I recently lost two very close friends, both Marines which I served with in Iraq, both past away in thier sleep this past summer. I feel as though the cause of their death was directly related to being over medicated by the VA. I am trying to reaise awareness and bring a close to these tragic deaths. If you have a similar situation please contact me at The VA needs to be held responsible for the deaths in which they are directly related to. We served our country in war and now are looking to be served by the goverment in which we fought to defend.