Opiates: a word the has been marginalized, and a word that has been legalized, yet encapsulates a great deal of stigma. Many of us know someone who has had difficulties with opiates, yet we do not know what the addicted individual is experiencing. We can understand that there is most likely a traumatic experience that has bonded itself to the person’s addiction. We all can find ourselves in the same situation at any time. But our nation’s military members/veterans have been exposed to opiates at alarming rates. Many can tell you the exact time or circumstance they became addicted, and it typically has been tied directly to service or prescription medications they have received in an effort to help alleviate a physical ailment.
There are several factors which have been known to contribute to a Veteran’s dependence on opiates during and after utilization for pain management. These factors can include, but are not limited to: general transition, discharge status, physical/sexual assault while in service, relationship status, child custody, child support, financial instability, and more. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “Opioid medications are often prescribed for chronic pain conditions, but use and misuse of opioids resulting in hospitalizations and death has been on the rise. As a result many military, veterans, and their families turn to complimentary and integrative health approaches such as mindfulness, meditation and other practices in an effort to enhance the options for the management of pain and associated problems. Whether mental or physical, veterans risk addiction to opioid pain medicines prescribed after an injury.”
Why is it so important to discuss this major concern? The implications of long term dependence on opiates has created a less than bright physical health sustainment for those military members and veterans affected, in addition to their families who experience the addiction with them. How do we help as a society? One way is by continuing to encourage medical professionals to ask more about environmental factors and experiences that have adversely affected our nation’s heroes. It is one thing to give someone a Motrin in the emergency room, but it is another issue to provide a military veteran or member with a three month’s supply of Oxycontin; then not follow-up with care. The impact of overdosing on this or any other prescribed opioid can and many times leads to death.
-What do you mean I may need to take more opioids to achieve like pain relief?
-What? I will have trouble staying awake and may ignore or snap at my family?
-My sex drive? What?
-Now you tell me this is why I have been itching and sweating so much!!
Families are re-traumatized through opioid addiction and it is important to understand that these impacts can be lifelong, in similar ways military service and war are. As I wrote about in a blog on Traumatic Brain Injury: “Many lose friends, experience feelings of a loss of self, friends, experiences, and loved ones, yet they themselves may still be present. Invocation of anger, sadness, depression, financial difficulties, insecurity, broken marriages/relationships/families, inability to complete academic work in normal settings or at all, loneliness, not being understood, feeling threatened by life itself, isolation, feeling useless, and more”. The same can be true for those struggling with addiction.
Being addicted to anything can paralyze the individual. Currently use is at an all-time high, and we as a society have not found the road to opioid freedom though we have utilized taxpayer dollars for exploration. I recognize that this push is for the well-being of our military members during and after service. But the concern, that needs to be delved into more with scrutiny, is the all-answering pill!
Environmental Treatment = Competent Practice = Learning the Pharmacology of Opioids More Clearly = Action to Alternatives Practiced and Taught = More Families Held Together = More Lives Saved! = More Lives Saved and Held Together because we have taken the time to Teach varying alternatives as a result of Societal Action. By learning the pharmacology of opioids, clinicians can have the opportunity and foresight to competently practice and provide environmental, as well as physiological Treatment!
Is this problem fixed with a Magic Wand? NO. The work of veteran clinical, mental health, housing, and other services must continue in a solid effort to continually aid and improve the lives of our Nation’s Veterans and their families experiencing addiction to opioids or any substance. The theme for the 2019 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), National Prevention Week is “Inspiring Actions – Changing Lives”. If we all jump into action by helping to create awareness on the dangers of addiction and opioid use, areas of our lives will positively impact our neighbors and allow more veteran lives to be positively impacted. Service to those who have served the United States of America is key.
Putting ourselves in the shoes of a veteran and their family who are addicted to opioids can empower us to push the Federal Government, SAMHSA, Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, and other federal health organizations to work toward mitigating the circumstances for the use of the drug, and improve the lives of our men and women in and out of uniform.
The Aftermath: Simply put, the aftermath severity or lack thereof can largely depend on care received through VA Resources, Centers for Disease Control, SAMHSA, Competent Community Based Prevention and Treatment Centers, Non-Greedy Pharmaceutical Companies; who can provide research and treatment, along with healing, life-long healing effects.
If you or a veteran you know needs help, IAVA’s Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP) is standing by to assist. Reach out to us today.