Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with mental health diagnoses are far more likely to be prescribed heavy opioid narcotics – such as morphine, Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet – that can become addictive than those with no psychiatric history, a new study finds.
Researchers said the tendency to give harder pain medicines to veterans with such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder raises their risks for drug abuse, addiction and bigger health problems,
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed health records for more than 141,000 veterans from 2005 through 2010. Researchers from the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center found more than twice as many veterans diagnosed with mental health issues were prescribed opioids as those with no psychiatric history. Disorders included PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and traumatic brain injury.
"Nationwide, the prescription of opioid analgesics has nearly doubled since 1994 because of a greater recognition of the importance of treating pain,” the researchers wrote. “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."
The study was partly funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.