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Marine Cpl. Chad Oligschlaeger, 21, was being treated for PTSD when he died in his sleep at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in May 2008. Oligschlaeger was taking six types of medication, including Seroquel, to deal with anxiety and nightmares that followed two tours of duty in Iraq.

The military medical examiner attributed the death to “multiple drug toxicity,” indicating that Oligschlaeger, too, died from a drug interaction. Because of the complex reactions between various drugs, medical examiners do not attribute such deaths to any one medication.

After consulting with physicians, parents Eric and Julie Oligschlaeger now believe their son died of sudden cardiac arrest caused by Seroquel.

“Right now, I’m so angry, and I believe someone needs to be held accountable,” said Julie Oligschlaeger, of Austin, Texas. “The protocol absolutely has to change.”

The Defense Department’s deputy director for force health protection, Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, said the government has not seen any increase in dangerous side effects from Seroquel and other drugs.

Physicians interviewed by the AP said they began prescribing Seroquel because it was the only drug that offered relief from the nightmares and anxiety of PTSD.

“By accident, some people were giving them Seroquel for anxiety or depression, and the veterans said, ‘This is the first time I have slept six or seven hours straight all night. Please give me more of that.’ And the word spread,” said Dr. Henry Nasrallah of the University of Cincinnati, who has treated PTSD patients for more than 25 years.

Most of the soldiers and veterans seeking treatment for PTSD do so at hospitals run by the VA or the Defense Department.

The VA’s spending on Seroquel has increased more than 770 percent since 2001. In that same time frame, the number of patients covered by the VA increased just 34 percent.

Seroquel has been the VA’s second-biggest prescription drug expenditure since 2007, behind the blood-thinner Plavix. The agency spent $125.4 million last fiscal year on Seroquel, up from $14.4 million in 2001.

Spending on Seroquel by the Department of Defense, has increased nearly 700 percent since 2001, to $8.6 million last year, according to purchase records.

Nasrallah and others said they use drugs like Seroquel off-label because so few treatments are approved for PTSD. The FDA has only cleared two drugs for the condition, the antidepressants Paxil and Zoloft, and they do not always work.

The only published study on use of Seroquel for PTSD-related insomnia involved just 20 patients who were followed for six weeks at a VA medical center in South Carolina. The study, which showed moderate improvement in sleep, was funded by AstraZeneca at the request of VA psychiatrist Dr. Mark Hamner, who has studied the use of Seroquel for PTSD.

In his written conclusion, published in 2003, Hamner urged caution in interpreting the results because of the study’s small size and short duration.

Hamner is working on larger, federally funded studies of Seroquel. For now, he acknowledges, there is little published research on the use of the drug for PTSD.

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