A Nation Addicted to Pills, the Problem Continues
Despite the U.S. being faced with an ongoing epidemic of prescription narcotic misuse, abuse, overdose and unintended death, we still aren’t taking the problem seriously. In a recent report by IMS as of September 2014 the narcotic pain medication hydrocodone/acetaminophen, generic Vicodin, was the most prescribed medication in the United States, with 123,365,902 prescriptions being written over the 12 months ending September 30, 2014. If we were serious about solving this very pressing public health epidemic this would clearly not be the case.
Members of the armed forces are not immune to the substance use problems that affect the rest of society. Although illicit drug use is lower among U.S. military personnel than among civilians, heavy alcohol and tobacco use, and especially prescription drug abuse, are much more prevalent and are on the rise. The stresses of deployment during wartime and the unique culture of the military account for some of these differences. Zero-tolerance policies and stigma pose difficulties in identifying and treating substance use problems in military personnel, as does lack of confidentiality that deters many who need treatment from seeking it. Those with multiple deployments and combat exposure are at greatest risk of developing substance use problems.
Abuse of prescription drugs is higher among service members than among civilians and is on the increase. In 2008, 11 percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs, up from 2 percent in 2002 and 4 percent in 2005. Most of the prescription drugs misused by service members are opioid pain medications. The greater availability of these medications and increases in prescriptions for them may contribute to their growing misuse by service members. Pain reliever prescriptions written by military physicians quadrupled between 2001 and 2009—to almost 3.8 million. Combat-related injuries and the strains from carrying heavy equipment during multiple deployments likely play a role in this trend.
Suicides and Substance Use
Suicide rates in the military were traditionally lower than among civilians in the same age range, but in 2004 the suicide rate in the U.S. Army began to climb, surpassing the civilian rate in 2008. Substance use is involved in many of these suicides. The 2010 report of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force found that 29 percent of active duty Army suicides from fiscal year (FY) 2005 to FY 2009 involved alcohol or drug use; and in 2009, prescription drugs were involved in almost one third of them.
Addressing the Problem
A 2012 report prepared for the DoD by the Institute of Medicine (IOM Report) recommended ways of addressing the problem of substance use in the military, including increasing the use of evidence-based prevention and treatment interventions and expanding access to care. The report recommends broadening insurance coverage to include effective outpatient treatments and better equipping health care providers to recognize and screen for substance use problems so they can refer patients to appropriate, evidence-based treatment when needed.
Our Mission at Ultimaxx Health
Ultimaxx Health has made it its mission to develop innovative solutions for pressing public health problems such as those discussed in this article, and we are pleased to announce the much anticipated launch of LEVARE® and Advyndra™, which we are confident, will help to mitigate one of the most critical public health dilemmas of our time.
-Lenny Lomax, M.D.