Currently, close to half of the soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from chronic pain. According to JAMA Internal Medicine, about 44% of the members of an Army infantry brigade reported chronic pain three months after returning from their tour of duty. Civilian rates are about 26%. Narcotic pain medications may be being used to treat these individuals, but there are also times when people are refused the medications they need to keep their pain under control.
Pain is tough taskmaster. When non-relenting, pain becomes overwhelming and makes life miserable. Unfortunately many times chronic pain goes untreated as physicians struggle to understand the severity of the pain and balance the use of drugs with possible addiction.
Soldiers who suffer from depression or PTSD in addition to chronic pain were more than twice as likely to take narcotic painkillers. Not only are the meds addictive, they cause side effects that may place additional stress on the body.
I learned while I worked for hospice that narcotics and other medications used to treat chronic pain were not addictive for the individual who really has chronic pain. When taken by someone who is hurting badly, the drugs to not affect the pleasure zones in the brain, but are absorbed by the body to prevent pain. If the pain is chronic, then narcotics are an option for controlling the pain.
There are other options too. Alternative therapies include acupuncture, acupressure, hydrotherapy, diversion, and massage. There are times that the individual’s perception of their wartime experiences can influence the depth of their pain, and holding in the trauma may make pain much worse. Art therapy, music therapy, yoga, tai chi and even physical therapy or counseling may help.
While many veterans are using opiates to treat their chronic pain, there are alternatives available that perhaps should be tried first. When chronic pain can’t be controlled, narcotic pain medications may be needed. We want to use drugs appropriately rather than avoiding them because we’re afraid of addiction


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