In a series of alarming reports, the V.A. and medical profession are beginning to wonder if treating PTSD with Opioid prescription drugs is the right course of action. Referring to V.A. records, U.S. Medicine reports that “more than 141,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with non-cancer pain. The prevalence of PTSD among that group is 32%, with 19% diagnosed with other psychiatric disorders.”
Of this group, “11% have been prescribed opioids. For veterans with PTSD, that percentage grew to 17.8%. For other psychiatric illnesses, it’s 11.7%, with a 6.5% prescription rate for veterans with no psychiatric diagnoses.
U.S. Medicine goes on to report that “veterans with PTSD also were more likely to take higher opioid doses (22.7% vs. 15.9%), two or more opioids (19.8% vs. 10.7%) and concomitant sedative-hypnotic drugs (40.7% vs. 7.6%). Receiving prescription opioids was associated with adverse clinical outcomes for all veterans, but adverse effects were most pronounced in veterans with PTSD. Those outcomes included general wounds and injuries, accidents and overdoses, violent injuries and suicide attempts. While previous studies have shown that prescription opioids are more often prescribed for patients with psychiatric disorders, this trend was even more pronounced when the patient was diagnosed with PTSD.”
Lead author Karen Seal of a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the medication prescribed to veterans believes that the study results are troubling. ”The message to me is to keep redoubling our efforts to really have conversations with patients about these risks, and really provide them alternatives to just taking Vicodin or oxycodone or morphine, which has become very, very common in our society.”
It is becoming clear that our military leaders are now beginning to realize that these addictive drugs may, in fact, exacerbate the problems associated with PTSD rather than treat them. In fact, Bob Brewin of Veterans for Common Sense reports that “the Army Surgeon General’s office is backing away from its long-standing endorsement of prescribing troops multiple highly addictive psychotropic drugs for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and early this month warned regional medical commanders against using tranquilizers such as Xanax and Valium to treat PTSD.
“An April 10 policy memo that the Army Medical Command released regarding the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD said a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which include Xanax and Valium, could intensify rather than reduce combat stress symptoms and lead to addiction.
“The memo, signed by Herbert Coley, civilian chief of staff of the Army Medical Command, also cautioned service clinicians against prescribing second-generation antipsychotic drugs, such as Seroquel and Risperidone, to combat PTSD. The drugs originally were developed to treat severe mental conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The memo questioned the efficacy of this drug class in PTSD treatment and cautioned against their use due to potential long-term health effects, which include heart disorders, muscle spasms and weight gain.”
This greater awareness of the risk of prescribed opioids only confirms indications that SFTT has received from its sources “upwards of 80% of veterans suffering from PTSD also have an addiction problem.” These new revelations are truly frightening and place a far greater sense of urgency in treating PTSD properly unless we plan on turning our brave veterans into addicts rather than cure them.