Last year, the Pentagon spent more on pills, injections and vaccines than it did on Black Hawk helicopters, Abrams tanks, Hercules C-130 cargo planes and Patriot missiles — combined.
Some of the prescription drugs that have fueled the military’s skyrocketing pharmaceutical budget are the same ones that have medicated the civilian world over the past decade. Since 2002, the Department of Defense has spent more than $5 billion on Lipitor, Plavix, Advair, Nexium and Singulair.
Rather than a reflection of the drugs needed to treat wounded troops, the top-selling prescriptions signal an increase in aging military retirees covered by the military’s health program, Tricare, with drugs for arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes costing billions. The Department of Defense also spent more than $380 million on erectile dysfunction drugs and $238 million on testosterone therapy drugs over the decade.
But the military drug purchases also paint a picture of a fighting force increasingly reliant on antidepressants, psychotropic drugs and powerful narcotic painkillers that critics call dangerous and that have been involved in a growing number of prescription drug overdoses. The military spent at least $2.7 billion on antidepressants and more than $1.6 billion on opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin and hydrocodone over the past decade. More than $507 million was spent on the sleeping pill Ambien and its generic equivalents.