According to a new study, returning Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans who have been diagnosed with mental health issues are more likely to be prescribed opioid painkillers—medications that can be highly addictive.
The study, which surveyed more than 140,000 veterans, found that veterans with a mental health diagnosis—including anxiety, depression, or substance abuse—were 2.4 times more likely to be prescribed opioids than vets without such a diagnosis. Among veterans with PSTD, the discrepancy was even greater: 17 percent of vets with PTSD were prescribed opioids compared to 6.5 percent of vets without a mental health problem. Vets with PTSD were also more likely to be prescribed more than one opiod, as well as benzodiazepines.
The increased use of these painkillers among vets with mental health conditions has also raised red flags about an increased risk of substance abuse. The study followed the veterans over the course of the year, and found that those with PTSD were also at the highest risk for self-inflicted injuries and alcohol-related, drug-related, and opioid-related accidents and overdoses.
“These patients tend to receive higher dose opiates than their counterparts and would request early refills of their opiates which indicates that they are using them more quickly than they should be,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Karen Seal of the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Seal added that her research speaks to the need to “consider alternative solutions to relieving our patient’s pain and suffering.”