U.S. veterans have a problem with opioids, but it’s not what you think. For decades, VA doctors have used opioid prescriptions, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, as the primary treatment for veterans suffering chronic, post-duty pain. In response to over-prescription, the Opioid Safety Initiative was enacted to reduce the use and abuse of these drugs. While the Initiative may have been well-meaning, the result is that veterans are forced to stop their prescribed medications cold turkey and to suffer through addiction and painful withdrawal symptoms.
Doctors overprescribe opioids to veterans in pain
For nearly a decade, military doctors freely prescribed opioids to veterans to manage pain incurred from injuries while in service. According to the Veterans Affairs clinical guideline, within 3 months of returning from Afghanistan, 44 percent of military members reported chronic pain and 15 percent reported using opioids. This is much higher than the general population. Statistics show that opioid over-prescription has been a growing problem:
- Prescription rates for opioids increased by 270 percent from years 2000 to 2012.
- More than 90 percent of veterans who are treated by opioids for at least 90 days continue to use opioids after one year.
- More than 80 percent of veterans continue opioid use after a 3.5 year follow up.