Painkiller Prescriptions Jump for Injured Troops

By Gregg Zoroya

October 20, 2008

WASHINGTON — Narcotic pain-relief prescriptions for injured U.S. troops have jumped from 30,000 a month to 50,000 since the Iraq war began, raising concerns about the drugs’ potential abuse and addiction, says a leading Army pain expert.

The sharp rise in outpatient prescriptions paid for by the government suggests doctors rely too heavily on narcotics, says Army Col. Chester “Trip” Buckenmaier III, of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

By 2005, two years into the war, narcotic painkillers were the most abused drug in the military, according to a survey that year of 16,146 servicemembers.

MORE: Prescription drug abuse hits Mo. Army unit hard

Among Army soldiers, 4% surveyed in 2005 admitted abusing prescription narcotics in the previous 30 days, with 10% doing so in the last 12 months. Researchers said the results may have been skewed by respondents mistakenly referring to legal use of pain medication. A 2008 survey has not been released.

“You don’t have to throw narcotics at people to start managing pain,” says Buckenmaier, who pioneered technology that eases the pain of wounded soldiers. More…