Unintended Consequences

From The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University conference on “Wounds of War” in New York City.

New medical advances seem always to bring new challenges – medical and otherwise. In the case of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, lifesaving battlefield treatments mean more soldiers are coming home or going back to fight. But many are doing so with chronic pain, which increases the risk for mental health disorders and substance abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a meeting of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA).

Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Some substance abuse problems even start when soldiers are deployed. Soldiers who are in pain while serving in combat will receive treatment – often opioids – but the follow-up is difficult as troops rejoin their units in combat.  Opioids not only help with the pain, but soldiers quickly find that they help ease the stress, too, Dr. Volkow said.  It can become easy for soldiers to develop a substance abuse problem as they begin to use the drugs to numb the battlefield stress, she said.

— Mary Ellen Schneider

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Filed under Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Neurology and Neurological Surgery, Primary care, Psychiatry

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