Here’s a sobering fact: Opioid drug abuse has killed more Americans than the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars combined.
The opioid epidemic has affected nearly every family in the United States, having killed more than 64,000 Americans in the 12 months ending last January alone. That’s a 21 percent increase over last year’s figures, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
But the scourge of addiction has been especially harmful to our country’s veterans. In fact, because of their injuries, veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses, particularly those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to federal data.
When you compare the fact that approximately 65,000 Americans died in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it’s clear that the United States is losing the war on drugs.
President Donald Trump has labeled opioid abuse a national public health emergency, and a White House commission last week recommended establishing a nationwide system of drug courts and easier access to alternatives to opioids for people in pain.
“Our veterans deserve better than polished sound bites and empty promises,” said former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a recovering addict and a member of the president’s opioid commission. He added that more funding was needed for treatment facilities and medical professionals to help tackle the problem.
Unfortunately, the proposed Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, has stalled in Congress.
“The Veterans Administration needs to understand whether overmedication of drugs, such as opioid pain-killers, is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths,” McCain wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. He noted that 20 veterans take their lives each day, a suicide rate 21 percent higher than for other U.S. adults.
Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Curtis Cashour said that the VA system has treated roughly 68,000 veterans for opioid addiction since March.
A VA center in Cleveland has begun testing alternative treatments, including acupuncture and yoga, to reduce the use of and dependency on drugs, the VA said.
However, the Trump administration has yet to install anyone as “drug czar” to head the effort. Last month, the White House nominee, Rep. Tom Marino, withdrew from consideration following a report he spearheaded a bill that hurt the government’s ability to crack down on opioid makers.