Opioid abuse crisis takes heavy toll on U.S. veterans

Opioid epidemic could be spurred by lack of available, affordable treatment

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Opioid epidemic could be spurred by lack of available, affordable treatment

A&E’s “Dope Man” and advisor to Rehab.com Tim Ryan, a recovering heroin addict who lost his son to an overdose, explains why the opioid epidemic is so bad in the United States and what can be done to help solve it.

Opioid drug abuse has killed more Americans than the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars combined, and U.S. veterans and advocates this Veteran's Day are focusing on how to help victims of the crisis.

Veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses of the highly addictive painkillers, a rate that reflects high levels of chronic pain among vets, particularly those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to federal data.

U.S. government and healthcare officials have been struggling to stem the epidemic of overdoses, which killed more than 64,000 Americans in the 12 months ending last January alone, a 21 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 65,000 Americans died in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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President Donald Trump named opioids a national public health emergency, and a White House commission last week recommended establishing a nationwide system of drug courts and easier access to alternatives to opioids for people in pain.

"Our veterans deserve better than polished sound bites and empty promises," said former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a recovering addict and a member of the president's opioid commission.

Kennedy said in an email that more funding was needed for treatment facilities and medical professionals to help tackle the problem.

One effort to address the issue has stalled in Congress - the proposed Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act, sponsored by Senator John McCain. That measure is aimed at researching ways to help Veterans Administration doctors rely less on opioids in treating chronic pain.

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