VA-Funded Study Shows Vets Prone to Addiction Still Given Opiates to Treat PTSD

A government study released in March shows that many painkillers given to war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder often lead to addiction.

Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and came back from war with PTSD were twice as likely to be given prescriptions for painkillers that have proven to be addictive compared to vets with only physical pain, according to the study.

Caregivers were approximately four times more likely to give the drugs to veterans with PTSD and a history of problems with substance abuse.

The study was paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs and it was based on the VA’s data. It was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

All of the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq who were diagnosed with physical pain between October of 2005 and December of 2010 were involved in the study, which equals 141,029 servicemen and servicewomen.

Vets with PTSD who were given morphine and other strong painkillers had a higher risk of suicide, alcohol and drug overdoses and self-inflicted injuries, according to the study. These consequences were rare, but still notable.

The study shows that it is a difficult task to treat painful injuries as well as painful memories. The study’s authors and other experts indicate other treatments including therapy and other drugs would be less risky, according to FoxNews.

Some doctors could be prescribing powerful, opium-based drugs like hydrocodone and morphine precisely because of their strength to potentially dull extreme physical pain or help reduce emotional distress. Opioids often make psychological problems worse, according to sources speaking to FoxNews.

In 2009, the VA adopted a pain management philosophy that requires opiate prescriptions be accompanied by non-drug mental health care. This came at the end of the study.

The VA distributed a press release about the study indicating that the agency’s pain management approach is a model of effective care, but “…we recognize that more work needs to be done.”

There were 15,676 veterans given opiate prescriptions in the study for physical pain. Those numbers included 18 percent of the vets with PTSD and about 12 percent of those with different mental health diagnoses. The opiate prescriptions were given to only about 7 percent of the veterans without those problems.

Since many veterans coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are young, they are often struggling to find their place in civilian life, according to a Yale University teacher and doctor who spoke with FoxNews. Dr. William Becker works with veterans on substance abuse problems. The best treatment in that environment is therapy and behavioral management for the PTSD and separate chronic pain management for the physical injuries of war. He said the study “…brings much needed attention to the complexity of this problem.”

To learn more or to contact a Veterans disability lawyer, Veterans disability attorney, Veterans lawyer, or Veterans attorney call 1.800.693.4800 or visit

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