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Troops Consuming More and More Painkillers

posted 12:40 PM EST, Tue October 21, 2008
Troops Consuming More and More Painkillers © Photo by James Gordon

Top US Army medical officials have raised concerns about possible pain killer abuse and addiction among troops insured in Iraq. Prescriptions for pain-relievers to injured US troops have surged from 30,000 a month to 50,000 since the Iraq war began.

According to Army Col. Chester "Trip" Buckenmaier III, of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, the jump in outpatient prescriptions paid for by the government suggests that doctors rely too heavily on narcotics. Most of them prescribed for orthopedic injuries from the strain of long deployments.

According to a 2005 survey of over 16,000 service members narcotic painkillers were the most abused drug in the military. 4% surveyed in 2005 admitted abusing prescription narcotics in the previous 30 days, with 10% doing so in the last 12 months.

A more recent survey in 2008 has not been released.

A recent court testimony states that at least 20 soldiers in an engineer company of 70 to 80 soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., shared and abused painkillers prescribed for their injuries. "The groundwork for this toxic situation was laid out through the continual prescription of highly addictive, commonly overused drugs," said Capt. Elizabeth Turner, the lawyer for one defendant in the case.

In response to six suicides and seven drug-related deaths among soldiers in Warrior Transition Units, aggressive efforts are now underway to manage prescription drugs, says Col. Paul Cordts, chief of health policy for the Army surgeon general.

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