Americans soldiers who have recently returned from war are more than three times as likely to use prescription opioids than the regular civilian population. Soldiers also suffer almost twice as much chronic pain than civilians according to a new study published in the medical journal, JAMA Internal Medicine. Around 44 percent of soldiers experience choric pain, which lasts for three months, compared to just 26 percent of civilians. The use of opioids in civilians is just 4 percent compared to 15 percent for soldiers.
Dr. Edlund, a pain expert and psychiatrist has said, “American medicine in general is overprescribing.” He also noted that the study gave no suggestion that the painkilling medicine was being used differently in the military than in regular health systems. Opioid use has shot up dramatically in recent years in all aspects of American life. The number of people who have died from drug overdoes since 1999 has increased fourfold to 16,000.
The most commonly used opioids are hydrocodone and oxycodone, both of which are highly addictive and meant to be effective for short-term moderate and severe pain. They are often prescribed for chronic pain as well, but many critics believes that the negatives of the drugs addictive qualities outweigh the positives. An Opioid is a type of medication that is prescribed to relive the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain, but they also have side effects including respiratory depression, sedation, constipation and a strong sense of euphoria. The euphoric effects of the opiate class drugs are troubling because they can make addiction very difficult.
The study that showed opioid uses to be surprisingly high amount soldiers returning from war surveyed around 2,600 individuals. Around 14 percent of the soldiers described their pain as being severe, which aligns with why the drugs should be taken. In contrast there were 144 soldiers who said that their pain was mild and 17 who reported no pain, but all were still taking painkillers.
Most patients who reported having chronic pain only used over the counter medicines, with fewer than 25 percent actually having a prescription to opioid medication. The rates of chronic pain was markedly higher is soldiers who had reported post-traumatic stress disorders, but they were no more likely to use painkillers than other military personnel. In most cases, soldiers had been using the painkillers for less than 15 days in a month, while 60 soldiers had said they were taking the drugs nearly every single day of the month.
Two doctors, Dr. Eric Schoomaker and Dr. Wayne Jonas, wrote a commentary on the study and were worried about the adverse effects that continued use of painkillers could have on America’s fighting forces because America’s defense rests on the fitness of its military personnel in body, spirit and mind. Use of painkillers can carry risk of functional impairment for the nation’s service members, which is a frightening prospect. They believed that without improvements to the way doctors manage pain, many military personnel could become at risk of increasing the likelihood of disability throughout their lives. Critics hope that more studies will look into how to decrease the very high rate of opioid usage from those soldiers returning from war.
By B. Taylor Rash