Opiate Abuse In The Ranks

The latest scary headline is that the number of troops enrolling in the Army’s Substance Abuse Program has skyrocketed 500% in the past 5 years.

Pentagon statistics obtained by FoxNews.com show that the number of Army soldiers enrolled in Substance Abuse Program counseling for opiates has soared nearly 500 percent — from 89 in 2004 to 529 last year. The number showed a steady increase almost every year in that time frame — but it leaped 50 percent last year when the U.S. began surging troops into Afghanistan.¬†Army troop levels in Afghanistan went from 14,000 as of the end of 2004 to 46,400 as of the end of 2009.

Fox News doesn’t state it, but they imply in that paragraph that hundreds or thousands of troops in Afghanistan have suddenly become heroin addicted zombies.

But they bury a bit of information that may well be at the heart of the matter- prescription drugs:

The Army did not break down the opiate-use data to show how many of the soldiers had been deployed to Afghanistan or what specific opiates they were using; opiate drugs include morphine, codeine and heroin.

As stated elsewhere in the article, there’s a good chance that some abuse is in fact a result of the easy availability of opiates in Afghanistan. But I’d say it is reasonable to presume that the majority of cases are not the result of heroin in Afghanistan.

This is pure supposition on my part, but consider this- the Army has a large number of troops that have been severely wounded over the last 5 years. And we are seeing the Army retain wounded soldiers who in the past would have been discharged or medically retired. I think it is reasonable to presume that a goodly number of those troops were being treated with opiate based drugs for pain, and a not insignificant number of those troops have had abuse problems with them. It is far from unheard of for civilians to abuse pain medication, either deliberately, or accidentally. The fact that the Army offers a treatment program for troops that seek help is a very good sign. When I was in, the big treatment program was for alcohol abuse. And seeking treatment voluntarily had no negative impact on your career.

My take? Cause for concern. But not cause for panic. Shame on Fox News for the sensationalism.

H/T: War News Updates

3 thoughts on “Opiate Abuse In The Ranks”

  1. In my experience, opiates are pretty damn easy to abuse. If you’re taking them regularly for medium-to-long periods of time to manage pain, dependency can really sneak up on you.

    Good thing a program exists for our troops who struggle with it, but I’m willing to bet there’s a higher percentage of recreational opiate use on my college campus than there is total abuse of the stuff in the armed forces.

  2. I have to agree. Except for certain levels of morphine and codeine, almost all the other pain killers out there make me sick. I feel like I’m hung over and I just can’t function. I’ve also taken to self-medicating with alcohol and low doses of ibuprofen when the pain is bad, rather than the stuff (Flexaril & Vicoden) the VA prescribed for me.

    Seriously, I deal with pain issues on a regular basis. I also agree with GaigeM that any abuse problems the military is facing likely pale when compared to civilian abuse.

    This story is right up there with the one about the military dealing with a rash of suicides. Turns out that the suicide levels are still way below those in the civilian world. That’s not to belittle the subject, just pointing out that reporters don’t always give you the information needed to put the numbers into context.


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