Friends and family of military people really don’t understand that veterans on opiates is a widespread problem for those who serve our country. Men and women who return home from military deployment have difficulty re-adjusting to life stateside, and if they were taking pain pills when they were deployed their VA doctor at home is unlikely to change their medication regimen.
Veterans on Opiates: A Convenient Band-Aid
In fact, over the last several years reports have persisted that administrators at various Veterans Administration Centers pressure doctors to just put a Band-Aid on pain problems. Doctors claim they aren’t given the time or the money to pursue alternative pain treatment options such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, aqua therapy, acupuncture, or good old-fashioned physical therapy.
People who haven’t seen the problem up close and personal always express surprise at the widespread use of opiate drugs among military personnel. A Texas news website, Statesman,com, published a story in 2012 indicating that one out of three veterans of combat in Iraq or Afghanistan have died from an overdose or suicide. Over a thousand miles away in San Francisco, VA staff admitted that use of opiate drugs almost tripled over the past ten years.
On the country’s East coast, in Virginia, scandal broke out when a physician came forward about pressure from her administrators to prescribe opiate drugs. The government protested this claim, insisting that doctors decide themselves whether to prescribe opiate drugs. However, there’s no disputing that opiate drugs including OxyContins, Vicodin, methadone, and morphine are cheaper than paying for physical therapy, and those medications get a patient in and out quickly.
Little Improvement Seen
Even though news of this disturbing trend came to the forefront over two years ago, the use of opiate drugs continues as an easy fix for veterans. There are former soldiers like Justin Minyard, his story told by Ken Olsen in Military.com, who only sought help when he saw himself on video, nodding out while with his daughter on Christmas Day. Doctors at the 30th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine</a (AAPM) emphasized in a study that almost a million veterans received prescriptions for opiate drugs over a six-month period, and 52 percent of them took their medications for 90 days or more.
Many former soldiers report lengthy waits for an appointment with a doctor. Once these patients get in, if their prescribed pain medication no longer works, the doctor simply prescribes more of it or substitutes other opiate drugs. A sergeant described a three-month wait to see his doctor, and he ended up on 13 different medications, including multiple opiate drugs.
Problems Specific to Veterans
Veterans receiving medication in the field face pressure to remain on duty. When they do return home, they experience problems that their families and doctors don’t understand. Coming home can be a culture shock to vets, and a spouse simply cannot understand what it’s like to live on the edge of war, eating ready-to-eat meals and showering on the run without privacy. Loved ones don’t understand that persistent pain and military bureaucracy can foster an addiction to opiate drugs. The vets struggle to reintegrate into the family and also deal with dreams or flashbacks about their experiences in combat. The AAPM noted two common characteristics among veterans addicted to opiate drugs: They are married, and they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
We all have a responsibility to get our veterans better care. If you know a military vet who could use some assistance getting off opiate drugs, encourage him to call a local methadone clinic. He may be a good candidate for methadone or buprenorphine treatment.