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Soldiers Returning from War Have a High Rate of Painkiller Use

Update Date: Jul 01, 2014 10:08 AM EDT

When soldiers return from war, many of them might experience physical or mental pain. In a new study, researchers set out to examine how soldiers deal with their pain. They found that in comparison to American citizens, soldiers tend to use painkillers more often.

"War is really hard on the body," said study author Lt. Cmdr. Robin Toblin, a clinical research psychologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research according to Philly. "People come home with a lot of injuries, and as you can imagine they experience a lot of pain. There seems to be a large unmet need of management, treatment and assessment of chronic pain."

For this study, the researchers from the U.S. Army interviewed an Army infantry brigade made up of 2,597 soldiers that recently returned from Afghanistan. 44 percent of them, or 1,131 soldiers, reported suffering from chronic pain, which is pain that lasted over three months. 14 percent of them described their pain as "severe."

The soldiers were asked how often they took opioids within the past month. A total of 15 percent stated that they relied on these drugs to relieve their pain. However, the researchers found that many of the soldiers were incorrectly given painkillers. Out of the group of soldiers taking pills, 17 of them reported no pain and 144 of them stated that their pain was "mild."

The number one leading cause of pain was combat injuries. The researchers found that pain levels were higher in soldiers who were also dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and/or depression. 60 soldiers reported taking painkillers everyday.

"American medicine in general is overprescribing," said Dr. Mark Edlund, a psychiatrist and pain expert, reported by TIME. Dr. Edlund was not a part of the survey.

When the researchers compared these rates to those of typical Americans, they found that 26 percent of citizens experience chronic pain and only four percent of them use opioids.

The study, "Chronic Pain and Opioid Use in US Soldiers After Combat Deployment," was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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