The opioid epidemic is claiming a record amount of lives annually in the U.S., but the death rate from painkiller abuse among veterans is nearly double that of the broader population.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is stepping up its effort to treat military veterans who get hooked on the dangerous pills, but are struggling to stay ahead of the crisis. While VA doctors have treated roughly 68,000 veterans for addiction to opioid painkillers since March, service members continue to die from painkiller overdoses at twice the rate of the non-military population, reports Reuters.
Former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who recently served on President Donald Trump’s White House commission on opioid abuse, is critical of the lack of action on this issue from Congress, saying Friday, “our veterans deserve better than polished sound bites and empty promises.”
Republican Sen. John McCain is currently working to pass a bill that will fund research into ways VA doctors can mitigate the use of opioids in treatment. McCain noted that as well as overdose deaths, opioids may be contributing to the high suicide rate among the veteran population, which is 21 percent higher than the rate among average U.S. adults.
“The Veterans Administration needs to understand whether overmedication of drugs, such as opioid pain-killers, is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths,” McCain told Reuters Thursday.
President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency” on Oct. 26, giving states hit hard by opioid addiction flexibility on how they direct federal resources to combat rising drug deaths.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 predicts that the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.