Opiate Abuse Mounts: Veterans in Crossfire

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The tragic death of Prince appears to have been an overdose of opioids designed to relieve pain.  While we are still awaiting toxicology reports, it does appear the Prince has suffered from excruciating pain for quite some time and was taking ever-increasing amounts of pain-killers to deal with this problem.

Prince

At this stage, it is unclear that these drugs were prescribed or that he was self-medicating with drugs obtained illicitly.   In fact, some argue that Prince did not die from pain pills but from chronic pain.

Whatever is determined to be the final cause of Prince’s death, it is abundantly clear that Prince was in great pain and that he took a variety of addictive drugs to help him deal with this problem.

You don’t have to stray far to see that addiction to pain-killers has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.  In fact, in late March President Obama called attention to this growing problem by saying the following:

“When you look at the staggering statistics, in terms of lives lost, productivity impacted, costs to communities, but most importantly cost to families from this epidemic of opioid abuse, it has to be something that is right up there at the top of our radar screen,” Obama said at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.

The epidemic is a rising issue in U.S. politics that has found its way into the presidential campaign. Both of the front-running candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, have been confronted on the campaign trail by ordinary people affected by drug abuse, and have responded with widely disparate strategies to confront the problem. The Obama administration has meanwhile proposed a dramatic increase in federal spending, to about $1.5 billion in fiscal 2017, for addiction treatment and other measures to stem the epidemic.

“Today, we are seeing more people killed because of opioid overdose than traffic accidents,” Obama said.

“We’re taking a number of steps, but frankly we’re still under-resourced,” Obama added. “I think the public doesn’t fully appreciate yet the scope of the problem.”

While the general public may not be aware of the problem, Veterans and our military leaders are well aware of the devastating consequences of taking prescription drugs to deal with PTSD and other brain-related traumas.

veterans with ptsd opioids

Stand For The Troops has been reporting for years on the effects of prescribing potentially lethal combinations to Veterans with PTSD.    Even the FDA is concerned as evidenced by their recent initiative to seek tighter controls on the use of prescription drugs.

Clearly, prescription drugs can play an important role in helping Veterans cope with the symptoms of PTSD, but it should now be obvious that prolonged use of opioids or other addictive pain-killers is not a long-term solution that will benefit Veterans.

Nevertheless, the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) continues to drag their feet on providing Veterans with access to other less dangerous treatment alternatives.

The VA can continue to stonewall this problem claiming “lack of resources,” or “lack of clinical evidence” for alternative treatments, but the continued use of haze-inducing opiates is certainly not the answer our Veterans expect nor deserve.

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Military News Highlights – Week of March 20, 2016

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Found below are several news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Better than a War on Drugs
Pendulums are made to swing from one side to the other. So it is for the prescribing pendulum for narcotic analgesics in the U.S. today. For decades, until the 1990s, doctors were closed fisted about prescribing pain medications, with little basis for that approach other than an American tendency to puritanical attitudes towards drugs. The result was that far too many people, including those with severe, intractable pain, suffered needlessly.   Read more . . .

Prescription Drugs Targeted by PTSD

Is the Glock Pistol the Next Military Sidearm?
The U.S. Army‘s chief of staff is searching for alternatives to the multi-year Modular Handgun System effort, to include piggy-backing on Army Special Operations Command’s current pistol contract.  Gen. Mark Milley has used recent public appearances to criticize federal acquisition guidelines that all services must follow when choosing and purchasing weapons and equipment.  Read more . . .

The Military is from Mars, Civilians are from Venus
We’ve attended many meetings where it felt like the military personnel were from Mars and the civilians were from Venus: part of the same solar system, but from planets with vastly different landscapes and languages. And we knew many of our friends and colleagues who had also shared this far-too-common experience.   Read more . .  .

LZ Grace:  A Place to Heal
Lynnette Bukowski discusses LZ Grace Warriors Retreat.  Lynnette, and many volunteers, have transformed a 38 acre farm in Virginia Beach into a place for members of the special operations community and first responders to decompress and recharge. Lynnette shares the story of her husband, a Navy SEAL, and discusses some of the unique challenges the she faces in supporting who are accustomed to serving, and often suffering, in silence.   Read more . . .


VA Programs Caregivers May Not Know About
Roughly 5.5 million people serve as caregivers for veteran family members. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a lesser known benefit for these family members. Known as Caregiver Support Services, these benefits aim to help family members who are tasked with the primary care of a disabled veteran. The services available include access to a caregiver support line, support coordinator, peer support for caregivers, adult day health care centers, and home care, among other things.  Read more . . .

A War Correspondent’s Trouble with PTSD
The war was changing me, hardening me. I felt flashes of pure rage when someone ran into me on the basketball court or cut me off on the road. I chose tables at restaurants that were as far from the front doors and windows as possible, in case a bomb went off outside. I would wake up whenever there was a sound in my bedroom and then be unable to fall back asleep. In some of my dreams, loved ones died. In some, I did. I had full-blown PTSD.   Read more . . .

Join SFTT in helping get our Veterans the support they deserve.

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Opioids May Not Be Good for Treating PTSD. Really?

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If the devastating implications weren’t so gut-wrenching, many of us would be rolling in the aisles with laughter.   Unfortunately, Karen Seal of the San Francisco VA Medical Center has sadly concluded that “the use of opiate pain medications in those patients (veterans suffering from PTSD) is, frankly, risky.”  According the Austin Statesman, “a growing body of research shows that PTSD and powerful prescription drugs can be a deadly mix.

“Six months ago, a study of 141,000 veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts concluded that combining prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone with PTSD was like pouring kerosene on a fire: Those with mental health diagnosis were nearly three times more likely to be prescribed opiates than veterans without PTSD. Worse, they were also much more likely to have poor outcomes, including overdoses.”

Almost anyone with half-a-wit could have reached the same conclusion several years ago.  In fact, SFTT has reported on many occasions that the prescription of opiates to those with PTDS symptoms has certainly exacerbated problems for veterans and may have turned these troubled warriors into junkies.  Why?   Institutional barricades have been erected to protect those complicit in providing improper treatment to tens of thousands veterans who certainly deserve better care.   Why should anybody be surprised that the government is now throwing another $100 million to help better diagnose PTSD.   Can we expect a better outcome?  If you think so, then you probably believe in the tooth fairly.

What about the 2006 study reported by the Austin Statesman quoting University of Washington pain researcher Mark Sullivan who wrote that the: “Use and abuse of opioids appears to be common in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.”   Wouldn’t it have been wiser to throw $100 million at alternative treatments for PTSD than for the VA and Defense Department to pretend they are  now doing something “right” because the pharmaceutical lobby was calling the shots all along.

I don’t mean to be cynical, but drugs are big business and the pharmaceutical companies that provide expensive, addictive and dangerous drugs have a vested interested in keeping the public and their Beltway puppets in the dark on the long term effects of these powerful drugs.  Who suffers?  The taxpayer and the brave young men and women who have sacrificed so much for this country.

If you want your voice to be heard, consider adding your voice to SFTT and help get our veterans the treatment they deserve.

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Are Opioid Prescriptions the Right Answer for treating PTSD?

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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

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  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.

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