Easy access to powerful prescription opiates has led to a rise in overdose deaths among war veterans, a new report has found. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued more than one opiate prescription per patient, on average, for the past two years. Prescriptions for four opiates – hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine – have surged by 270% in the past 12 years, CIR found in an analysis of data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to CIR:
The agency charged with helping veterans recover from war instead masks their pain with potent drugs, feeding addictions and contributing to a fatal overdose rate among VA patients that is nearly double the national average.
CIR notes that this spike in opiate prescriptions has occurred despite new VA regulations laid out in 2009 requiring clinicians to follow an “integrated approach” to helping veterans in pain, including a stronger focus on treating the root causes of pain rather than using powerful narcotics to reduce symptoms.
Many areas of the nation with military bases and large VA hospitals have seen prescription drug abuse skyrocket among American soldiers in recent years.
Earlier this year, a compilation of federal data showed that the military has spent $1.6 billion on painkillers over the last decade, while $2.7 billion has been spent on anti-depressants and more than $507 million on sleep medications such as Ambien.