NEW YORK — Despite a well-documented increase in the abuse of alcohol and prescription medications among military personnel over the past decade, the Defense Department’s strategies for screening, treating, and preventing those problems remain behind the times, a major new report finds.
“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,’’ said Charles P. O’Brien, chairman of the panel that wrote the report and the director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania.
The report by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, asserts that heavy drinking ‘‘is an accepted custom’’ within the military that needs to be regulated more carefully, recommending routine screening for excessive alcohol use.
The report noted that while rates of illicit and prescription drug abuse are relatively low, the rate of medication misuse — particularly of opioid painkillers — has risen sharply: 11 percent of active-duty personnel reported misusing prescription drugs in 2008, up from 2 percent in 2002. Such prescription-drug abuse is rising faster within the military than among civilians.
The panel, while commending the Pentagon for taking steps in recent years both to curb prescription drug abuse and expand availability of substance abuse programs, asserts the military needs to do more to reduce the stigma attached to seeking substance abuse treatment.