Veterans With Mental Health Disorders More Likely to Abuse Prescription Painkillers

Veterans With Mental Health Disorders More Likely to Abuse Prescription Painkillers

When soldiers return from combat, they bring home their experiences. They may leave behind the gritty sand, the insect-laden jungles, and the gunfire on the streets, but they all bring home memories. Along with physical scars, some bring home the scars of anxiety, fear, and depression-mental scars that need to be treated in order for the individual to go on with a mentally healthy life.

Some veterans will suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) now suggests that veterans who combat mental health disorders after returning home are more likely to abuse prescription painkillers than those without mental health disorders. Researchers believe that this news should stir better training for VA primary care clinicians in the dual management of PTSD and pain management.

The Need for Treatment

With better medical technology, veterans are healing from wounds which once were fatal. Specialized equipment can heal veterans in ways not available years ago. But with this survival, comes extremely vivid images and emotions of near-death and traumatic experiences. With these mental wounds, more veterans are suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Of the 141,029 veterans studied in the survey, 15,676 were given opioid painkillers for a minimum of 20 consecutive days. The following percentages reflect how much each group of veterans was prescribed painkillers:

  • 17.8 percent- Veterans with PTSD
  • 11.7 percent- Veterans with a mental health diagnosis, but not with PTSD
  • 6.5 percent- Veterans with no mental health diagnosis

Veterans with PTSD were also much more likely to receive prescription opioids if they had a substance use disorder. Only 6.5 percent of veterans with no mental health disorder were prescribed painkillers, while 33.5 percent of veterans with a combination PTSD/substance-use disorder received the painkillers.

The Need for Training

The authors of the study stress that many veterans get their treatment at their local VA primary care clinics, but the physicians may not be specially trained to help treat the veterans sufficiently. Not all VA primary care physicians are trained specifically on a combined PTSD and pain management treatment.

Researchers found that these VA physicians are often prescribing oxydodone (OxyContin), Codeine, and hydrocodone (Vicodin) to their patients who need help for PTSD and pain management.

The study’s researchers also believe that with the proper training on combined PTSD and pain management treatment, VA physicians could serve their veterans much better. With prescription painkiller misuse reaching epidemic levels, physicians are taking better note of the frequency and types of medications that their patients are receiving.

Veterans can be treated for PTSD. With proper treatment and watchful guidance from their primary care physicians, they can overcome this mental disorder without also suffering from prescription drug misuse.

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