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Narcotic Painkillers Another Threat to Traumatized War Vets: Study
Date:3/7/2012

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, March 6 (HealthDay News) -- Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have psychiatric disorders, especially post-traumatic stress disorder, are more likely than mentally healthy vets to use prescription narcotic painkillers, a new study finds.

Use of these opioid pain medications, such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin, can become addictive and cause more serious problems, researchers say.

"Veterans using these narcotic painkillers had worse clinical outcomes," said lead researcher Dr. Karen Seal, from the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "Those outcomes were wounds and injuries, alcohol and drug overdoses, opioid overdoses, violent injuries and even suicide. This was particularly true in the group with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]," Seal explained.

In the study of pain patients, those with PTSD, an illness marked by disabling anxiety, were more than twice as likely to receive opioid painkillers as those without mental health problems. Seal said these veterans are more likely to look for pain relief than seek mental health treatment.

"We are trying to change that situation," Seal said. Primary care physicians should screen patients for mental and drug or alcohol abuse problems and first offer alternatives to opioid pain medications, such as referral for mental health or pain care, she noted.

The report was published in the March 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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.

Almost 16,000 patients received prescriptions for painkillers covering 20 or more days, the researchers found.

About 18 per
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