It’s no secret that we veterans often walk through life with pain, be it physical or psychological. But let’s talk about the physical pain for a moment.
According to the National Health Interview Survey, veterans experience a higher prevalence of, and more severe pain than non-vets.
“More than 50 percent of all veterans enrolled and receiving care at VA are affected by chronic pain,” Dr. Robert Petzel, the former undersecretary for health at the VA, told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in 2014.
To combat this, the VA is perhaps a bit too eager to prescribe pain-management pills, such as opioids. The Center for Investigative Reporting found that between 2000 and 2012, VA prescriptions of hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and morphine surged by an unbelievable 270 percent.
As a result, addictions and overdoses of veterans were twice the national average.
But now, the VA is partnering with the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services in a joint venture to award $81 million in grant money to 12 research projects to explore non-drug approaches to pain management.
“Pain is the most common medical condition requiring treatment for military personnel,” said Dr. George Ludwig, principal assistant for research and technology, US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (AMRMC) in a statement. “Current drug treatments have limited efficacy and are often associated with severe adverse events, significant cognitive and physiological side effects, and pose a significant risk of abuse, misuse, addiction, tolerance, and diversion.”
The 12 projects will investigate non-pharmaceutical approaches to pain management such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, massage, acupuncture, and cognitive behavioral therapy, to just name a few.
Seven of the 12 have already been awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute of Health. The remaining five will be announced by the DoD and VA in the coming months.
“Finding solutions for chronic pain is of critical importance, especially for military personnel and veterans who are disproportionately affected,” added NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “Bringing the science to bear through these real-world research projects will accelerate our search for pain management strategies for all Americans, especially as we work to address the nation’s opioid crisis.”
America’s veterans suffer disproportionally from chronic physical pain, and are more likely to seek treatment for that agony than for psychological injuries. In turn, many vets end up self-medicating, and that can end tragically.
We don’t know what these projects, if anything, will tell. But it’s a good sign that the VA and others are looking for solutions to pain that don’t involve a trip to the pharmacy.