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For Many Veterans: Accidental Addiction to Drugs

It’s not a new story: Veterans come back from war with physical and mental scars. They suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and they often struggle with drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain. It’s acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: the link to information on Substance Abuse is listed just under Suicide Prevention at the top of the menu under Mental Health, proving the issue’s prevalence. So this is not breaking news. But what does strike our attention is a Wall Street Journal article published on Monday November 11th, Veterans Day, revealing just how connected drug use and PTSD can be in veterans’ susceptibility to addiction.

Veterans, the brave heroes who fight for their country, prove their strength every day of their service. When they come back home, they bring with them a great deal of physical and mental pain. They need ways to heal. Often doctors prescribe drugs to treat PTSD or physical injuries. Painkillers can certainly be effective and safe and extremely productive for ex-soldiers. But what about when it gets out of control?

In the Wall Street Journal article, the story is told of a young man who overdosed on painkillers and tried to commit suicide from the pills he was prescribed for a hand injury. According to the article, the VA treats many veterans with powerful opioid painkillers for their physical pains. But, when combined with mental illness, like PTSD, the strength of the drugs puts users at a higher risk for addiction. “Effectively, some critics say, it amounts to treating mental illness with addictive narcotics.”

Here’s what it comes down to:

“A study by a VA researcher found that veterans with PTSD were nearly twice as likely to be prescribed opioids as those without mental-health problems. They were more likely to get multiple opioid painkillers and to get the highest doses. Veterans with PTSD were more than twice as likely to suffer bad outcomes like injuries and overdoses if they were prescribed opioid painkillers, the study found.”

So what do we do? In some ways, it’s a bit of a moral dilemma – the risk of addiction might exist for some, but if the drugs can help ease the immense physical and emotional pain, does that mean taking away a potentially effective treatment for everyone? How do we decide if it’s worth the risk if it continues to help others? Which is the lesser of two evils?

While there are many sides to an argument, it seems the risk of giving these drugs to veterans is too far high. Accidental addiction and overdose is preventable. It becomes a slippery slope, too, as addiction to prescribed medicines often leads to addiction to street drugs, like heroin. And furthermore, while it may be easier to prescribe drugs, it is not the only way to help suffering veterans. Until there is more concrete information about the drugs, and who is susceptible to developing an addiction verses who could benefit, the dangers are too high. The veterans who come home, suffering mental and physical ailments, deserve the best, most comprehensive and thoughtful treatment available, and accidental addiction is unacceptable.

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