Veteran's view: Vets disproportionately feel pain of prescription drug abuse
As we have seen in Duluth and the Northland recently, opioid abuse has become far too common and deadly. While prescription painkillers can be addictive when used irresponsibly, they are important to people living with chronic pain. My fellow vet...
As we have seen in Duluth and the Northland recently, opioid abuse has become far too common and deadly. While prescription painkillers can be addictive when used irresponsibly, they are important to people living with chronic pain. My fellow veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq with combat injuries have benefited from these drugs. According to a July 2014 report from Human Rights Watch, more than 1 million U.S. veterans are estimated to take prescription opioids for pain.
A veteran’s need for pain relief is real. I along with several of my comrades from Afghanistan were injured and experience regular chronic pain as a result. I believe the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and all branches of the military need to be proactive in creating new pain-management programs for active-duty soldiers and veterans. Opioids should be tightly controlled, and a strong program is needed to transition patients off these drugs to prevent addiction.
At the state level, I am encouraged by a bipartisan effort to make safer opioids available in Minnesota. Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, and Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, have authored bills (House File 1038 and Senate File 917) that would make abuse-deterrent opioids easier for doctors to prescribe. Abuse deterrent formulations (or ADFs) prevent opioids from being crushed, burned or manipulated to increase a high. Crushed and cooked pill inhalation provides for very dangerous overdose situations. The hope is these types of painkillers could help lower accidental overdose and addiction rates.
ADFs already have proven to be effective. Since an abuse-deterrent formulation of OxyContin was introduced in 2010, abuse rates have dropped from 70 percent to
40 percent, according to a 2013 evaluation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Recent improvements to the Minnesota Prescription Drug Monitoring Program make it more difficult for addicts to shop for doctors. This program provides Minnesota doctors with more tools to recognize drug-seeking behavior and divert prescriptions from those likely to abuse. Opioids should only be in the hands of those who truly need them.
The approach to helping our veterans recover from drug dependence must be multifaceted. The support of the military, veterans groups and families is needed to help injured veterans get through very difficult times. As a veteran, I applaud our policymakers who actively are trying to improve choices for injured veterans and give doctors more tools to prevent abuse.
Brian Bergson is a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve and a military veteran who served in Afghanistan. He was born and raised in Duluth. The brother of former Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson, he now lives in St. Paul.