The VA Pumped Vets With Opioids. Now There's a Bigger Problem

How ex-service members got hooked on painkillers, and how the VA is letting them down: 'WSJ'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 6, 2017 5:39 PM CST
Vets Addicted to Drugs, a VA That Can't Help
A sad state of affairs for veterans looking for help with drug addiction.   (Getty Images)

Veterans who return from service not only have to deal with everyday re-entry issues (finding jobs, reacclimating to life with family and friends), but also with the injuries and PTSD they may have brought home with them. To cope with the physical and mental pain, many of them are prescribed painkillers, and as Valerie Bauerlein and Arian Campo-Flores reveal for the Wall Street Journal, there's now a "large population" of drug-addicted veterans—and the Department of Veterans Affairs is conceding its own part in creating the problem. The piece delves into how vets had a tougher time getting the meds they had grown accustomed to after 2013, when the department started cracking down on prescriptions and the opioids became harder to come by. That's when many veterans turned to the streets to get their painkillers, and when that cost became unwieldy, some even turned to illegal drugs like heroin.

And now, as veterans look for someone to help them break out of the addiction cycle, the VA is hamstrung by budgetary and bureaucratic constraints, leaving many addicts flailing in the wind. The problem is especially prevalent around Fort Bragg, the nation's largest military installation, in Fayetteville, NC, where a study showed 47% of opioid prescriptions there get abused. The Fayetteville VA offers limited treatment options with plenty of red tape, lack of staffing, and long wait times to get into treatment. "It gets discouraging," says a 30-year-old North Carolina Army vet who tried to get help for himself after suffering severe injuries in Afghanistan and attempting to kill himself. "It makes it easier to just say, 'F--- it, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing." Read more on the problem at the Wall Street Journal. (More Longform stories.)

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