Morphine Addiction in Veterans

Morphine Addiction in Veterans

Morphine, a powerful opiate painkiller, has had a long relationship with the military and veterans. Those experiencing shock, pain and injury benefit from its powerful and immediate painkilling, calming and sedative effects. This makes it a valuable tool in an army medic’s arsenal, yet morphine use does not come without immediate risks and long-term consequences. Addiction can happen to anyone, but those returning from military service are at increased risk of morphine and other opiate addiction for several reasons

Veterans, Addiction and Early Access to Morphine

One reason for addiction development is easy access to drugs or alcohol, and veterans may find themselves with far more opiates than they need. NPR shares, “During wartime, doctors and medics need to treat troops for pain, and often use prescription opiates to solve that problem. Americans in the military are prescribed narcotic painkillers three times as often as civilians.” A person who has never tried morphine or opiates cannot become addicted to them. With higher prescription rates comes an increased likelihood of addiction. Although access and early use are not the only factors contributing to addiction development, the increased frequency of opiate prescriptions among military personnel is correlated to an increased abuse and addiction rate. Prescription painkillers such as morphine, “can end up creating a new problem for patients with pain: addiction. Abuse of prescription drugs is higher among troops than civilians,” and statistics related to prescription drug use and addiction don’t change much once individuals leave active military service

The Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that the Veterans’ Administration, “has issued more than one opiate prescription per patient, on average, for the past two years…feeding addictions and contributing to a fatal overdose rate among VA patients that is nearly double the national average…Prescriptions for four opiates – hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine – have surged by 270 percent in the past 12 years.” While many veterans do experience ongoing effects of injury such as chronic pain, the increase in and prevalence of opiate prescriptions causes more problems for our veterans than it solves

Veterans, Addiction and Co-Occurring Issue

Chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical health concerns often follow military personnel home. These veterans rarely receive the complete and integrated care they need for a full recovery, so they may be left with prescriptions for powerful drugs but no other support for or understanding of the additional struggles they face and how they can get better

Access to opiates is just one risk factor for addiction albeit a powerful one and one that affects many veterans. Co-occurring issues such as untreated PTSD, anxiety and depression further increase the likelihood of addiction, and a past history of addiction places individuals at even greater risk. These risk factors help explain the high rates of addiction among returning military personnel. Despite the common knowledge of addiction risk, veterans with co-occurring concerns are actually even more likely to be prescribed opiates such as morphine. USA Today reveals that veterans with co-occurring PTSD symptoms and pain are, “two times more likely to get prescriptions for addictive painkillers than vets with only physical pain,” and even more disturbingly, “Iraq and Afghanistan vets with PTSD who already had substance abuse problems were four times more likely to get these drugs than vets without mental health problems.” This over-prescription of morphine and related painkillers often comes from the best intentions and, “with the hope that the emotional distress that accompanies chronic pain will also be reduced. Unfortunately, this hope is often not fulfilled, and opioids can sometimes make emotional problems worse.” Mistreating or ignoring any one factor related to overall physical and mental health places individuals at greater risk for addiction, and veterans have already given enough. They need complete care not a quick prescription

What Are the Results of Morphine Addiction in Veterans?

Any addiction can have devastating effects, but the results of addiction in veterans struggling with injuries, chronic pain and the mental effects of combat is often deadly. NPR reveals, “this drug use contributes to suicide and homelessness among the men and women who have served in the military,” while USA Today writes, “Subsequent suicides, other self-inflicted injuries, and drug and alcohol overdoses were all more common in vets with PTSD who got these [opiate] drugs.” The CIR agrees as well, as in 2011, “veterans seen by the agency’s [VA’s] doctors were dying from prescription drug overdoses at nearly twice the national average,” and this statistic has not significantly changed in subsequent years. Addiction can create a tragic ending for some of the strongest and bravest members of the population

Morphine Makes Recovery Harder

Morphine makes recovery harder, but it does not make it impossible. The VA and other medical professionals are aware of the addiction risks veterans face. Although prescribing opiates remains the most common action taken in response to pain and mental stress in veterans, the VA does recommended a change towards comprehensive approaches to mental and physical pain. The CIR reports that the VA now suggests, even if it doesn’t yet follow this suggestion, that treatment for veterans should include, “a stronger focus on treating the root causes of pain rather than using powerful narcotics to reduce symptoms.” Discovering the causes of pain, mental stress and addiction allows for true healing and recovery, while prescriptions simply mask surface symptoms

Morphine and other opiates are prescribed in response to mental health concerns, yet they make these issues worse. As CIR explains opiates, “make sleep more difficult, because they disrupt your usual sleep patterns, and as your sleep gets worse, your mood and your anxiety gets worse, and you find yourself not being able to think as clearly…And opiates are a downer, so they tend to make depressed veterans more depressed.” When veterans have been told or have found that opiates offer a quick solution to mental distress, they will often take such drugs more often or in greater quantities in response to worsening mental health without realizing the drugs are the source of this distress

When the drugs that seem like they should help only hurt, it can be easy to become frustrated or begin to give up on hope for a normal life. However addiction is not a life sentence. You or the veteran in your life can get better. You can get the help and support needed for addiction recovery. We are here 24 hours a day to guide you toward the nation’s best treatment programs that offer complete, integrated care. These programs staff teams of professionals that will leave no aspect of mental or physical health untreated. Addiction recovery comes with so much more than a life free from morphine and prescription painkillers. It can come with new methods for pain management and skills for moving past PTSD, depression and other mental health concerns unique to veterans. Call our toll-free helpline today to learn more about your options for real, lasting recovery.