Opiate Addiction Worse Than Ever For Vets
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Opiate Addiction Worse Than Ever For Vets


Addiction to prescription drugs is a rising problem that’s been intensifying for years. NPR has recently focused on the fact that the issue isn’t just a small-town suburban thing since thousands of troops and war veterans are getting stricken with addiction to these kinds of meds as well.

First Aid Turned Addictive

Obviously, during wartime, doctors need to treat injured soldiers for pain. Many of these docs and medics end up using prescription opiates for said reason—and they’re prescribing them three times more than they are back home to civilians. This year alone, the Department of Veteran Affairs is treating about 650,000 vets with highly addictive opiates. Which can, naturally, end up being less than peachy for them when they end up addicted (the rate of addiction is higher in vets than in us regular peeps).

Statistics Scarier Than the Front Line

Vets also have higher than normal rates of PTSD, depression, suicide and violence, and both the Pentagon and the VA fear this drug use contributes to suicide and homelessness among vets. Dr. Gavin West, a doctor who’s quoted in the NPR piece, says opiate addiction is a growing national problem which is of course only natural, since combat vets have more pain than other “regular” folks; substance abuse actually tripled among troops between 2005 and 2008.

Disturbingly (yet also not surprisingly), medics gave Adderall or other stimulants to the fighters if the sedative effects of opiates made them too sleepy to defend our country (or whatever they were supposed to be doing over there). One vet’s father recalls the general attitude about drugs as quite lax: “Everything under the sun, from Adderall to Percocet to hydrocodone, oxycodone, you name it [was prescribed],” he said. “‘My knee is hurting.’ ‘Well here, here you go.'”

Taking Action

The bright side in all of this? The VA is aware that there’s a problem—a big one—and is now taking steps to counteract the raging levels of addiction among troops. Gavin West of the Opioid Safety Program says the VA is trying to change its approach by not offer offering opiates as a first option for pain.

That sounds sensible to us! Because obviously this problem wouldn’t even be a problem—or it’d be a much less big, scary problem—if wartime doctors were a bit more careful about the drugs they hand out. Of course I understand the need for powerful, effective medications to help those who are suffering, but there must be a better way to monitor the soldiers who are taking those meds, and to keep them on a regimented schedule and withdrawal plan. Until we start treating opiate addiction as the public nightmare it truly is, we’ll just keep seeing an increase.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.