Researchers at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring led by Robin Toblin have found that around two in five American soldiers who return from deployment complained of chronic pain while over 15 percent admitted to recent use of opioid pain relievers.
Background: The prevalence of chronic pain and opioid use associated with deployment is not well known, although there are large numbers of wounded service members. The authors assessed the prevalence of chronic pain and opioid use following deployment in active-duty infantry soldiers who were not seeking treatment.
How the Study Was Conducted: Surveys were collected in 2011 from an infantry brigade three months after service members returned from Afghanistan. The final sample included 2,597 soldiers who had been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. Chronic pain was defined as that lasting at least three months.
Discussion: "The prevalence of chronic pain (44 percent) and opioid use (15.1 percent) in this nontreatment-seeking infantry sample were higher than estimates in the civilian population of 26 percent and 4 percent respectively. ... These findings 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." (JAMA Intern Med. Published online June 30, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.2726. Available pre-embargo to the media at http://media.jamanetwork.com.)
Editor's Note: The U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command (USAMRMC) provides intramural funding that supports enhancing the psychological resilience of the warfighter. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.Commentary: Pain and Opioids in the Military, We Must Do Better
In a related commentary, Wayne B. Jonas, M.D., LTC (Ret.) of the Samueli Institute, Alexandria, Va., and Eric B, Schoomaker, M.D., Ph.D., LTG (Ret.) of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md., write: "In a study by Toblin et al of one of the Army's leading units published in this issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, 44 percent of the soldiers had chronic pain, and 15.1 percent regularly used opioids."
"While chronic pain and opioid use have been a long-standing concern of the military leadership, this study is among the first to quantify the impact of recent wars on the prevalence of pain and narcotic use among soldiers," they continue.
"The nation's defense rests on the comprehensive fitness of its service members - mind, body and spirit. Chronic pain and use of opioids carry the risk of functional impairment of America's fighting force," they note.