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Chronic Pain, Opioid Use High Among U.S. Soldiers After Deployment — Physician’s First Watch

Medical News |
July 1, 2014

Chronic Pain, Opioid Use High Among U.S. Soldiers After Deployment

By Amy Orciari Herman

Edited by David G. Fairchild, MD, MPH, and André Sofair, MD, MPH

Some 15% of U.S. Army infantry soldiers who've recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan say they've used opioids in the past month, with nearly half of these reporting no pain or only mild symptoms, according to a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Nearly 2600 soldiers completed surveys roughly 3 months after returning from active duty. Among the other findings: 44% of participants reported chronic pain lasting at least 3 months; of these, one fourth said they'd used opioids in the past month.

The researchers note that the prevalences of opioid use (15%) and chronic pain (44%) were higher than estimates for the general civilian population (4% and 26%, respectively). They say the results "suggest a large unmet need for assessment, management, and treatment of chronic pain and related opioid use and misuse in military personnel after combat deployments."

Reader Comments (2)

Ira Wainless, B.Ch.E, P.E. Other, Other, Retired

Although the article is of interest, it is poorly worded. The first paragraph states that approximately 15% of the U.S. Army infantry soldiers who recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan say they used opioids in the past month.
The second paragraph states that nearly 2600 U.S. soldiers returning home completed surveys, and one fourth said that they used opioids in the past month.
So how exactly was the information obtained in the first case (re: first paragraph)? What was the pool (total number ) of soldiers referenced in the first case? Without clarification, the percentages reported in the first and second paragraph are confusing, and possibly conflicting. Also, the first paragraph should have clearly stated that one-half of those soldiers returning home had no pain or were in slight discomfort before deciding to use opioids, rather than to leave doubt that they were in no pain or slight discomfort after taking opioids. Or is that, also, an incorrect assumption?

Bert Kummel, M.D. Physician, Orthopedics, Retired one year

I question the results as I am sure that if 44% have chronic pain, a much larger percentage than 15 used opioids. 44% of supposedly healthy young people having chronic pain, is quite high. I suspect that the use of opioids in many cases preceded and induced the pain.

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