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The Pentagon’s new partnership will help vets overcome opioid abuse

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Military service members are on the front lines of a deadly war that no one is talking about. Soldiers are abusing prescription drugs at a higher rate than ordinary U.S. citizens due to years of overprescribing to service members injured in combat. Now, the Department of Defense is working with universities to find ways to fight the growing epidemic on both the front lines and at home.

A steep rise in substance abuse disorder began almost a decade ago at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Military physicians were prescribing highly addictive opioids at record numbers to help soldiers injured in combat. Later, military physicians realized the addictive effects of these drugs, but the opiates already had many service members hooked.

The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences is a school for service members that train enlistees fulfilling a medical role on ways to care for wounded soldiers. The school continues to do extensive research and tests to combat opioid misuse in the military. The University of West Virginia reached out to the USU and DOD asking to combine their efforts and resources in hopes of finding a solution that would also help civilians.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the country. Overdose deaths in West Virginia rose 17 percent in the past year, tripling the national average of substance abuse deaths.

The USU has found tactics they say is successfully combating military opioid misuse, but the tests on military personnel have been limited to small ‘selective populations.’ The new partnership with WVU allows researchers to test larger groups of state civilians and measure their progress with more data.

Retired Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric Schoomaker created and currently leads the Army Pain Management Task Force, and is excited about the DOD’s partnership with both USU and WVU.

“It’s important to have relationships like we have with West Virginia. They pay off in so many different ways that you can never anticipate,” Schoomaker said in a press release discussing the universities collaboration with the DOD.

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