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Opioid Misuse

Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that reduce feelings of pain. Acute and chronic pain affects large numbers of individuals in the United States, and many are prescribed opioid medication to treat this pain. Opioid medications are generally safe when taken as prescribed for a short period of time, but they can be misused as they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief. Regular opioid use can produce dependence, and when misused, can lead to a fatal overdose.

According to House Report 114–537 Report on Prescription Opioid Abuse and Effects on Readiness, the number of service members diagnosed with opioid drug dependence or opioid abuse is very low (less than 1 percent) and that number decreased by 38 percent between 2012 and 2016. Opiate positive drug tests among service members also has declined. The number of opioid-related deaths in the military is also lower than that of the civilian population.

The 2017 VA/DOD Clinical Practice Guideline for Opioid Therapy for Chronic Pain includes objective, evidence-based information on the management of chronic pain. The Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE) has created opioid therapy for chronic pain clinical support tools for providers, patients, and families based on the guidance in the clinical practice guideline. Providers should also stay apprised of the latest DOD policy guidance on substance misuse.

Last Updated: August 18, 2021

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