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Prescription Drug Addiction Increasing In US Military
Doctors are relying too heavily on narcotic pain relievers for US troops, says a military pain management specialist, raising concerns about the drugs’ potential for abuse and prescription drug addiction.
“You don’t have to throw narcotics at people to start managing pain,” said Army Col. Chester “Trip” Buckenmaier III, director of the Acute Pain Service Management Initiative at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Buckenmaier has pioneered alternative approaches to treat the pain of wounded soldiers evacuated from the battlefield to help avoid the risks of abuse, dependence and prescription drug addiction.
Prescriptions for narcotic pain relievers among injured troops have jumped from 30,000 a month to 50,000 since the beginning of the Iraq war, a new survey has found, suggesting that military medical personnel are over-relying on narcotics rather than using alternative treatments to manage pain. Narcotic pain relievers, a leading cause of prescription drug addiction among the civilian population, carry the same risk among military personnel.
There have been media reports for years of Injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq suffering from prescription drug addiction as a result of narcotics used to manage their pain. According to a 2005 survey, two years after the war started, narcotic painkillers were the most abused drug in the military. Among soldiers, 4 percent admitted abusing prescription narcotics in the previous 30 days, and 10 percent had done so in the last 12 months. A 2008 survey has not yet been released, but the situation will probably show continued or even increased abuse of narcotic pain relievers and cases of prescription drug addiction.
According to a report in the Military Times, six suicides and seven drug-related deaths among soldiers in Warrior Transition Units — created for the Army’s most severely wounded or injured — have led to new, aggressive efforts to better control prescription drug addiction. Col. Paul Cordts, chief of health policy for the Army surgeon general, said this will include limiting prescriptions to a seven-day supply and more closely monitoring drug use. Both the Army and Marine Corps are testing dispenser machines located in the barracks that emit drugs as needed, tracking to whom, and how much, is dispensed.
Pain is the most common complaint of nearly 350,000 Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Robert Kerns, national program director for pain management. A study of VA health records estimates that nearly half of those patients suffer chronic pain, severe enough in about 30 percent of those cases to limit daily living. The vast majority suffer orthopedic injuries from the wear and tear of long deployments, according to a VA study.
Chronic pain management with narcotic pain relievers is among the commonest cause of subsequent drug dependence and prescription drug addiction among all Americans. The efforts by the military to address the problem among our fighting men is commendable.
If you or someone you know has a problem with prescription drug addiction or abuse, something can be done. There are alternative approaches to managing pain without risking narcotic dependence, and medical drug detox to safely get off narcotics is the first step.
Rod MacTaggart is a freelance writer that contributes articles on health.
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