The AP (3/7) reports, “Morphine and similar powerful painkillers are sometimes prescribed to recent war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress along with physical pain, and the consequences can be tragic,” according to a study published March 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Despite the fact that veterans “are at high risk for drug and alcohol abuse…they’re two times more likely to get prescriptions for addictive painkillers than vets with only physical pain,” the study found. “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.”
“The research points to the need for doctors to use caution when treating veterans who need pain relief but who also have mental health or substance-use disorders,” the Los Angeles Times (3/6, Roan) “Booster Shots” blog reports. “Even in the civilian population, abuse of opioid medications has skyrocketed, with increased rates of addiction and overdose deaths. But, the authors noted: ‘Most VA primary care clinicians lack specialized training in the management of comorbid pain and PTSD.'”
Karen Seal, MD, MPH, of the VA Medical Center at the University of California-San Francisco, and colleagues “found that a far greater percentage of those with PTSD and those with other mental health problems — including depression, anxiety, alcohol use disorders, drug use disorders, and traumatic brain injury — received opioids for their pain compared with those without mental health diagnoses (17.8% and 11.7% versus 6.5%),” MedPage Today (3/7, Fiore) reports.
HealthDay (3/7, Reinberg) explains, “For the study, Seal’s team looked at the association between mental health problems and unfavorable results — including accidents, overdose and self-inflicted injury — with use of prescription painkillers in more than 140,000 veterans treated for pain at VA hospitals from October 2005 to December 2010.” Investigators found that nearly “16,000 patients received prescriptions for painkillers covering 20 or more days.” The study authors also found that veterans with “PTSD were more likely to take higher doses and more than one painkiller than mentally healthy vets. They were also more likely than the others to take sedatives and to refill their prescriptions early.” Also covering the story are the CNN (3/7, Kounang) “The Chart” blog and Reuters (3/7, Pittman).
— “Vets with mental health problems more likely to abuse painkillers,”Shari Roan, LA Times, March 6, 2012.