Veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan Wars with Mental Health Diagnoses More Likely to Receive Prescription Opioids for Pain

Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with mental health diagnoses, particularly posttraumatic stress disorder, are more likely to receive prescription opioid medications for pain-related conditions, have higher-risk opioid use patterns and increased adverse clinical outcomes associated with opioid use than veterans with no mental health diagnoses, according to a study in the March 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Greater exposure to combat coupled with improvements in battlefield medicine and protective gear have resulted in large numbers of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan surviving injuries that would have been fatal in prior wars. Veterans are returning home with co-existing mental and physical health problems, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most prevalent mental health disorder. “Nationwide, the prescription of opioid analgesics has nearly doubled since 1994 because of a greater recognition of the importance of treating pain. At the same time, rates of prescription opioid misuse and overdose have increased sharply, and prescription opioids are now a leading cause of death in the United States. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with pain- and PTSD-prescribed opioids may be at particularly high risk of prescription opioid misuse given the high co-occurrence of substance use disorders among veterans with PTSD,” according to background information in the article.

Karen H. Seal, MD, MPH, of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and colleagues examined the association between mental health disorders and patterns of opioid prescription use, related risks, and adverse clinical outcomes, such as accidents and overdose, among a national sample of 141,029 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The study included veterans who received at least one non-cancer-related pain diagnosis within one year of entering the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system from October 2005 through December 2010.

Additional information on the study is available at: http://pubs.ama-assn.org/media/2012j/0306.dtl#1

Journal of the American Medical Association – March 6, 2012

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