While the opioid epidemic continues to grow across the United States, the group of individuals most at risk are U.S. veterans. Nearly 60% of this group is taking prescription painkillers compared with only 30% of the general population. Of this number, 13 %, which translates to nearly 70,000 individuals, struggle with drug addiction. This number is approximately twice that of the general population. The Veterans Administration continues to search for answers to this problem but sadly has left many veterans out in the cold so to speak with poor options, long waiting lists and judgmental language that leaves them feeling as if they are society’s pariahs.
Supporting Veterans Against Drug Abuse
Many of the veterans returning from the Middle East suffer from pain, and older veterans have numerous complaints of chronic pain. This has led VA doctors to prescribe a laundry list of prescription painkillers over the past decade or two. With limited complementary therapies that were offered, veterans found themselves at high risk for drug addiction. In fact, by 2011, reports showed that these veterans were twice as likely as others to die from an overdose or to commit suicide.
Therefore, in 2013, the VA adopted the Opioid Safety Initiative in an attempt to decrease opioid prescriptions among veterans and to begin alternative therapies. However, what was meant for good ended up hurting numerous veterans who were unable to be a part of complementary therapies and were unable to get new prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Many were forced to go off their painkillers cold turkey, leading to dangerous withdrawal symptoms in some and worse addictions to heroin and other opioids in others. Veterans were unable to find room in complementary therapy programs, such as yoga, aquatic therapy, and massage, due to long wait lists. In addition, they could not get in to see their doctors every 30 days for renewed prescriptions per the new rules. This was also due to long waiting lists as well as to the fact that many veterans lived far from VA facilities.