Record Drug Use Harms Post-9/11 Veterans

Legal Drugs Dispensed by Military, VA.  

News reports and Congressional hearings over the past two years reveal that narcotics continue adversely impacting our Veterans in record numbers as they return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Compared with prior generations, our 2.6 million Post-9/11 service members deployed to war appear to be receiving far more psychotropic and pain medications legally dispensed by psychiatrists and other physicians working at the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

A Nation at War

There’s a simple reason for the sustained rise in prescription drug use: our nation remains at war. Our Veterans are returning home with more serious physical and psychological injuries, and they are more willing to seek assistance, in part due to a new 2008 law providing five years of free VA care for Veterans deployed to a war zone.

According to quarterly VA healthcare use reports released at the end of March 2014, nearly one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans were diagnosed by VA with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

News Reports Highlight Issue

In September, 2012, a six-month investigation by the Austin American-Statesman about Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who died in Texas after leaving the military revealed that an alarmingly high percentage suffered drug-related deaths, including one-vehicle accidents.

In September 2013, the Center for Investigative Journalism in California reported that prescriptions for four opiates – hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine – surged by 270 percent nationwide at VA since 9/11.

In March 2014, The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation published the results of an extensive poll of recent war Veterans. They revealed how half of the 2.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans self-report mental health conditions.  Read more of the Post’s coverage of Veterans.

Congress Takes Action, VA Responds

In October 2013, and again in February 2014, Congress held hearings in response to the news reports about rising prescription drug use. VA testified two months ago about a drop in the number of prescriptions and described how the agency is providing more oversight.

Problem Persists

Even though there is more awareness and government action, a March 2014 news article in TIME magazine reported on the fatal overdose of an Afghanistan War Veteran while in a government rehab program.

TIME revealed how a new report by VA’s Office of the Inspector General suggests that VA programs to help former service members may not be able to meet the sustained surge in demand.

Of the more than one million Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans treated by VA since 9/11, VA diagnosed and treated 572,569 (56 percent) for one or more mental health conditions.


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