Here at Fairwinds Treatment Center, we know how easily a routine prescription for an opioid painkiller can turn into a full-blown addiction. This is especially true for military members who have served in combat zones, often receiving treatment for extreme wounds at a time when their mental and psychological wellness may also be compromised by traumatic experiences. In fact, a recent report from National Public Radio (NPR) notes that the number of American military veterans grappling with prescription painkiller abuse or addiction is growing.
Dr. Gavin West, head of the Opioid Safety Initiative at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told the news outlet that the number of narcotics being prescribed to military members and combat veterans is on the rise.
"It's a national problem," West tells the source. "We have a very large number of people coming home. We have people coming back that maybe in the past would not have survived these injuries, that have really significant pain syndromes from their injuries sustained on the battlefield."
NPR reports that in 2014 alone, the Department of Veterans Affairs will prescribe prescription opiates to an estimated 650,000 veterans. Many of these men and women served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription painkiller abuse among troops doubled between 2002 and 2005 and tripled between 2005 and 2008.
Iraq War veteran Mike McDonel recalls the pill-popping environment he saw in combat zones, in which injured military members were given bags of pills to treat their pain and ready them for patrol as soon as possible. McDonel told NPR that if an opiate made a soldier sleepy, he might be given the stimulant Adderall. Another medication would be prescribed to treat any resulting insomnia.
McDonel's 35-year-old son Bryan, also a veteran, fell victim to addiction after he was injured while serving in Iraq. He didn't realize he had a problem until he headed to Afghanistan during a different deployment.
"The third or fourth day I was there, I didn't have any more [pills]," Bryan told NPR. "I was OK. You know, it just hurt. My lower back hurt like hell. And I thought I'd hurt myself again, but then I started feeling real sick. I didn't want to get out of the bed, and I didn't understand what that was."
He says a military medic told him he was in Vicodin withdrawal, so she prescribed him Percocet to offset the symptoms. Bryan finished his deployment and left Afghanistan with a Bronze Star. When he returned home, however, his prescription drug abuse quickly spiraled out of control. He got divorced, lost his house and lost his job as an instructor with the Arkansas National Guard. At one point he became homeless. Bryan is currently looking for work but so far has been unsuccessful.
Many if not most veterans likely find their attempts to stop abusing opioids complicated by psychological issues, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety or other challenges. Since Dr. M.K. (Khal) El-Yousef founded Fairwinds Treatment Center in Clearwater, Florida, 25 years ago, he has used a dual diagnosis methodology to promote total recovery. This unique plan addresses a patient's mental, psychological and emotional issues as well as their physical addiction, using a combination of clinical treatment and therapeutic counseling. If you or your loved one needs help, there is no better place to heal than Fairwinds.