The United States Government recently announced that it will launch research efforts focused on finding alternative ways for members of the military to manage their chronic pain. Thirteen projects will explore alternative therapy options for pain-related conditions as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, drug abuse and sleep problems, to hopefully lessen the use of narcotic painkillers.
In a government news release, Dr. Josephine Briggs, Director of the United States National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, said that pain is the most common reason for Americans to turn to complementary and integrative health practices. She added, “We believe this research will provide much-needed information that will help our military and their family members, and ultimately anyone suffering from chronic pain and related conditions.”
The 13 research projects will be conducted at the Veterans Affairs medical centers and academic institutions across the country, and will cost close to $22 million over the next five years.
Nearly 100 million adult Americans have chronic pain, and the problem disproportionately affects members of our military, both current and former, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine study. In the June issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, a report said the rate of chronic pain is 44 percent among members of the U.S. military after combat deployment, compared with just 26 percent in the general population. The report said the rate of use of powerful and potentially addictive narcotic painkillers is 15 percent among U.S. military members after deployment, compared with only 4 percent in the general population.
National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow said prescription opioids are a key tool in managing pain, but doctors prescribing the narcotics more and the increased availability of the drugs may be contributing to the growing misuse of the drugs. “This body of research will add to the growing arsenal of pain management options to give relief while minimizing the potential for abuse, especially for those bravely serving our nation in the armed forces,” Volkow said.
Some people may not realize that the number of active military personnel abusing drugs is higher than the national average. Due to the mental and physical strains that soldiers are put through, many suffer from injuries and are given painkillers and other prescription drugs. After a few weeks of taking the pills, many soldiers become addicted to the drugs. Regardless of how they became addicted, drug abuse is a major problem that needs to be addressed and one ex-soldier is willing to take on the task.
Frank L. Greenagel, Jr. left the military ten years ago. During his time away from the uniform he has taught high school, become a counselor with a focus on drug addiction and opened up a half-way house for recovering addicts in New Jersey. He has also served on a special substance abuse task force.
Greenagel has recently started working with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard so that he can help soldiers suffering from drug and alcohol addictions. He believes that drug abuse is such a problem in the military that they need to reshape policy and take a more aggressive stance against the problem if they want to see it ever get better. So, Greenagel re-enlisted and reported for duty as a behavioral health officer. In this new position he will be able to counsel soldiers with drug problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, which oftentimes leads to a life of drug abuse.
“The saddest cases are the ones where the soldiers were put on prescription drugs by the military and then it became a problem,” he recently commented. Unfortunately, prescription drug abuse is a bigger problem among those in the military than civilians and it shows no signs of slowing down. In three years the amount of active duty soldiers that admitted to abusing prescription drugs rose 7%.
It is clear that Frank Greenagel and others in similar positions have a lot of work to do in their quest to rid the military of its drug problems. In addition to counseling soldiers, Greenagel hopes that he can educated officers on the signs of drug abuse and ways to avoid prescribing such dangerous drugs like Oxycontin or Percocet, so as to prevent more soldiers from developing addictions.