New Study: Post Combat Opioid Use Greater Than General Public

Treating chronic pain

If you have had to live with chronic pain or have a loved one who is living with chronic pain, then you are familiar with the daily cycle of trying to find some kind of relief. Those who treat chronic pain patients often find that addiction to prescription pain medication is not unusual and requires treatment. Over the past few years we have provided up to date information concerning chronic pain, so today we are reporting on a new study.

JAMA Internal Medicine publishes new study

Just before the July 4th holiday a report on a new study regarding opioid pain medication use by returning combat veterans was released. This report was published online in the JAMA Internal Medicine: Chronic Pain and Opioid Use in US Soldiers After Combat Deployment. The study was conducted by researchers associated with the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland and the Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service in Rockville, Maryland. The lead author was Lt.Cmdr. Robin L. Tobin, PhD, MPH.

Study’s parameters

  • Data was collected from nearly 2600 troops who were assigned to the same infantry brigade and who returned from Afghanistan in 2011
  • 45% of those surveyed indicated they were wounded in combat
  • Each participant was given a anonymous written questionnaire to complete
  • The questions dealt with feelings of chronic pain and use of prescription painkillers

Study’s findings

  • About 44% of the participating soldiers said they were experiencing chronic pain even 90 days after returning home, as compared to the civilian rate of 26%
  • Nearly half of those in pain indicated they were still experiencing pain longer than a year, while 55.6% reported the pain as constant with half saying the pain was moderate to severe
  • About 4% of the civilian population use painkillers for pain, while 15% of the veterans took painkillers to treat pain

US News & World Report using HealthDay’s report quoted Dr. Tobin: 

“War is really hard on the body. People come home with a lot of injuries, and as you can imagine they experience a lot of pain. There seems to be a large unmet need of management, treatment and assessment of chronic pain.”

 Some final thoughts…

The timing of this study may well dovetail with the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) which was introduced by the Veterans Administration on February 25, 2014. 

The Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) is a comprehensive effort to improve the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of Veterans suffering from chronic pain. Launched in October 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, OSI is already demonstrating success in lowering dependency on this class of drugs. At eight sites of care in Minnesota, OSI practices have decreased high-dose opioid use by more than 50 percent. OSI incorporates the team approach with the goal of reducing opioid use by alleviating a Veterans’ pain using non-prescription methods. There is an emphasis on patient education, close patient monitoring with frequent feedback and Complementary and Alternative Medicine practices like acupuncture.

We hope you will take some time and read the related articles.  As Dr. Tobin offered, the military finds itself in a struggle to balance pain management and the risk of addiction.

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