Suffering Soldiers: Pain turning into addiction - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Suffering Soldiers: Pain turning into addiction

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The number of people in treatment for pain pill addictions has increased by more than 400% in the last decade. The disease has managed to effect people from all walks of life, even soldiers. So why are soldiers turning to pills? And what can be done to stop it?

With the frequency and length of deployment increasing over the last 10 years, the weight of the war is catching up with some soldiers. Doctors at Fox Army Health Center on Redstone Arsenal confirm that there is an increase in the number of prescriptions that active duty military soldiers are using.

Carrying more than 100 pounds of gear while hiking miles through the rough landscape in Iraq and Afghanistan has the tendency to wear soldiers down, leaving some to turn to pills to relieve their pain.

"People use substances to cope with stress. Clearly, people have injuries and there comes that temptation with injuries to use substances," said Dr. Robert Hellard, a psychiatrist at Fox Health Center.

To further understand this problem within the U.S. Military, the Department of Defense asked the Institute of Medicine to take a look at their policies and procedures when it comes to dealing with drug abuse and addiction. That report, published under the National Academy of Sciences branch, found several problems. It says that the military approach to treatment is outdated. The found no standard guidelines for all Substance Use Disorder, or SUD, programs. That means treatment plans vary at different locations, which can cause confusion among both doctors and patients within the system.

The report also points out that there aren't enough SUD treatment facilities. That could hinder a soldier from seeking help if he or she has to drive 3 hours for an appointment. We did a quick search in the North Alabama area and found 5 facilities between Huntsville and Guntersville. They all provide standard counseling services, but said they would be more than willing to provide a referral to the VA's pain treatment center in Birmingham, where alternative care, like acupuncture or physical therapy, is provided.

Doctors at Fox Medical say they're starting to see that type of shift in care. Dr. Renee Walton says she is aware of the movement.

"They are pushing more towards making sure people have access to physical therapy or if they need pool therapy," said Walton. "You want to use those things in conjunction with other therapies, not just medications. Pain is an area that a lot of clinicians are not trained on, it's not focused on. So we're trying to get better educated across the board so that we can better help patients."

As new treatment plans emerge, doctors hope soldiers realize they don't have to live with the feeling of pain, or addiction..

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