Opioid abuse crisis takes heavy toll on U.S. veterans

My movement is broken up into groups of people who are addicted.

I have helped many different type of individuals. Kids as young as 10 through age 15. (Yes kids as young as 10 are overdosing)

Then you have the kids in transition heading to Junior high and high school.

Age 16 ,17, and 18

There is the kid who is approaching the legal age and most have graduated high school age 19 to 21.

There are addicted moms of all ages.

There are dads who are addicted of all ages.

There are regular everyday folks who turned addicts from surgeries, dental work, car accidents, work related injuries, and sports related injuries.

There are addicted senior citizens. Yes grandmas and grandpas.

Then there are addicted veterans.

Today’s post talks about the men and women who serve our country and suffer from addiction.

Since we are celebrating Veterans day, I find it appropriate to bring light to this epidemic.

The Veterans Administration says 90,000 Vets Addicted to Opioid Painkillers !!!!
Now it’s tightening guidelines for prescribing such painkillers.
So having seen what opioid abuse has done to the civilian population in the previous blog (“Opioid abuse may be fueling a heroin epidemic”), let’s take a look at what it is doing to our nation’s vets….

“More than 50 percent of all veterans enrolled and receiving care at VHA (Veterans Health Administration) are affected by chronic pain, which is a much higher rate than in the general population,” said a 2014 VA report. “Veterans who suffer from chronic pain also experience much higher rates of other co-morbidities (post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, traumatic brain injury,) and socioeconomic dynamics (disability, joblessness) that may contribute to the challenges of pain management when treated by opioids.”

However, prescription painkillers became the preferred tool for dealing with that pain.

The Center for Investigative Reporting, using data provided under the Freedom of Information Act, said prescriptions for four opioids (hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine) surged by 270 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to addictions and a fatal overdose rate that was twice the national average.

In 2014, the VA said it issued 1.7 million prescriptions for opioids to 443,000 vets to be taken at home.

“We owe it to the nation’s veterans to help them end their dependence on opioids,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald, “and break the downward spiral that all too often leads to homeless, prison or suicide.”

McDonald said vets are 10 times more likely than the average Americans to abuse opioids and that such abuse is a leading cause of homelessness among vets.

“More than 50 percent of all veterans enrolled and receiving care at VHA (Veterans Health Administration) are affected by chronic pain, which is a much higher rate than in the general population,” said a 2014 VA report. “Veterans who suffer from chronic pain also experience much higher rates of other co-morbidities (post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, traumatic brain injury,) and socioeconomic dynamics (disability, joblessness) that may contribute to the challenges of pain management when treated by opioids.”

However, prescription painkillers became the preferred tool for dealing with that pain.

The Center for Investigative Reporting, using data provided under the Freedom of Information Act, said prescriptions for four opioids (hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine) surged by 270 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to addictions and a fatal overdose rate that was twice the national average.

In 2014, the VA said it issued 1.7 million prescriptions for opioids to 443,000 vets to be taken at home.

Alarmed, the VA began cutting back its painkiller prescriptions in 2010. The agency says it reduced the number of vets receiving painkillers by 115,575 individuals between 2012 and 2015 and that it has 100,000 fewer vets on long-term opioid therapy.

Still, it says it treated 66,000 vets for opioid addiction in fiscal 2016.

“We owe it to the nation’s veterans to help them end their dependence on opioids,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald, “and break the downward spiral that all too often leads to homeless, prison or suicide.”

McDonald said vets are 10 times more likely than the average Americans to abuse opioids and that such abuse is a leading cause of homelessness among vets.

However, one problem is that there’s no adequate replacement for prescription painkillers. “We do not have another silver bullet that we can say, ‘Instead of opioids, try this,’” Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the VA’s deputy under-secretary for health, told FRONTLINE Enterprise Journalism Group. “It’s much more a matter of individualizing and trying different alternatives, and that can be really frustrating for patients, as well as clinicians.”

So what does this do to our vets? Listen to these stories these Vets told the nation’s news media in the past year…..

(Robert Deatherage, a 30-year-old Army vet)

Told the Wall Street Journal that he has battled addictions to pain pills and heroin after suffering severe injuries in Afghanistan. He said he hit rock bottom a year before when he took refuge in an empty church in Fayetteville, N.C., and tried to kill himself—twice.

“I was just so sick of being as sick as I was,” he told the WSJ. First, he tried to shoot himself, but the gun misfired, so he injected himself with all the drugs he had, but he didn’t overdose.

Believing he might recover after all, Deatherage walked to a nearby VA Medical Center, but it was full so they sent him back onto the street with a jacket from the lost and found and the phone number for a homeless vets coordinator. After he picked up his disability check a few days later, however, he checked into a motel that he knew was frequented by vets and addicts.

“It gets discouraging,” Deatherage told the Journal. “”It makes it easier just to say, ‘F—k it, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”

The youngest son of a single mom, Deatherage adored his grandfather, a Vietnam helicopter pilot who died when he was 10. Shortly after enlisting in 2006, Deatherage was prescribed (Percocet) for a back injury during helicopter training and continued taking the painkillers during his deployment to Afghanistan in 2009-2010.

“I got blown up seven times,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I would go see my medic, get bandaged, get Percs and get on with it.” During that time, he suffered back, neck, and facial injuries, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury when he cracked his skull during an explosion.

Later stationed on the West Coast, he was prescribed opioids for his pain and began buying additional relief from other soldiers. He lost his job, his savings and his marriage, and he received a medical discharge for substance abuse in 2014.

“They threw me out of there and said ‘Take care of yourself,’” he told the Wall Street Journal. “So I did”

Deatherage spent the next two years either in jail or homeless, according to the Journal. At the time of publication, he remained in jail.

 

­

(Craig Schroeder Army Vet)

Former Marine corporal, was injured by a roadside bomb in the “Triangle of Death,” a region south of Baghdad, according to the Washington Post. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost some hearing, memory and movement. Due to pain from a broken foot and ankle, as well as a herniated disc in his back, he has had a steady supply of prescription opioids.

But after the DEA regulations were put in place to reduce opioid prescriptions, he was unable to get an appointment to see his doctor in North Carolina for nearly five months, he told the Post.

“It was a nightmare,” he said. “I was just in unbearable, terrible pain. I couldn’t even go to the ER because those doctors won’t write those scripts.”

His wife Stephanie told the Post that getting her husband a VA appointment became her main mission in life, but she said the VA seemed to become hostile toward patients who asked for painkillers.

“Suddenly, the VA treats people on pain meds like the new lepers,” she told the Post. “It feels like they told us for years to take these drugs, didn’t offer us any other ideas, and now we’re suddenly demonized, second-class citizens.”

(Ken Grady, a 45-year-old Air Force Veteran)

Had been prescribed OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and fentanyl patches throughout the 2000s to relieve pain from a series of surgeries for back injuries, the Wall Street Journal reported. “The VA made it so easy,” he said. “It was endless, and I abused it.”

When he couldn’t get prescriptions, he was able to buy opioids on the street, often outside the Fayetteville, North Carolina, VA hospital from patients who had just had their own prescriptions refilled. While he has been struggling to stay clean, Grady told the Journal that he has spent all but 65 days of the preceding two and a half years in VA-funded treatment or in jail.

During one stay at the VA’s mental health unit, a doctor prescribed him Percocet for chronic back pain, he said, but he told the doc “Please don’t give me that.”

Grady then had several teeth pulled by a VA contractor who prescribed him Vicodin for pain. He took the pills that time, relapsed, bought some more on the street and landed in jail again, where he remains.

Veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses of the highly addictive painkillers, a rate that reflects high levels of chronic pain among vets, particularly those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to federal data.

There are many many many more stories, I can share about the people who served our country women and men suffering and lost hope because they have chronic pain conditions, and mental conditions.

Let us remember all the sacrifices made by our military so that we could have a safer life. No amount of appreciation will be sufficient enough to honor them. Let us just pray for them and their families. Have a Happy Veteran’s Day ! ?

If you or a love one is struggling with addiction, please schedule a phone consultation.

Thank you for reading.

Add A Comment