The latest example making news is war veterans suffering from pain and co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder who are being prescribed potent opiate painkillers. Even though it’s widely known that veterans with PTSD are at high risk for drug and alcohol abuse, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows they’re twice as likely to get prescriptions for addictive painkillers as veterans with only physical pain.
Even more concerning, vets with active substance abuse problems were four times more likely to get addictive drugs than those without mental health issues.
Vets with PTSD who are prescribed these drugs are more likely to suffer drug overdoses, self-inflicted injuries and suicides, according to the study. In addition to their addictive potential, opiate drugs can actually exacerbate certain emotional problems and only slightly reduce or even worsen pain.
Side effects, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms can compromise the drugs’ pain-relieving effects. In a 2009 study of 1,843 workers with back injuries, researchers found that only 26 percent of the patients on opioid painkillers experienced pain relief, and only 16 percent experienced improvement in physical function.