Skip to main content

Military Health System

Important Notice about Pharmacy Operations

Change Healthcare Cyberattack Impact on MHS Pharmacy Operations. Read the statement to learn more. 

Getting creative: Reducing opioid use for returning warriors

Image of Airmen of the 174th Attack Wing participate in a weekly yoga class. Classes are intended to present an alternative way for 174th members to build both mental and physical strength. Yoga is also a way to alleviate chronic pain in the body. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Duane Morgan). Airmen of the 174th Attack Wing participate in a weekly yoga class. Classes are intended to present an alternative way for 174th members to build both mental and physical strength. Yoga is also a way to alleviate chronic pain in the body. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Duane Morgan)

When service members return from tour of duty with debilitating battlefield injuries, opioid prescriptions are common in their recovery process. Opioids are effective in reducing pain in patients but can be highly addictive as a pain treatment option. As a result, the Defense Health Agency is exploring alternate pain management techniques to decrease the number of opioid prescriptions in military hospitals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2017 that drug overdose deaths involving opioids skyrocketed from roughly 8,000 in 1999 to over 46,000 in 2017. Of these numbers, deaths involving prescribed opioids jumped from around 3,000 to almost 17,000. DHA’s response has been an integrated approach to health that combines prescriptions with nonpharmacological pain treatments. DHA published a procedural instruction in 2018 that promotes physical and behavioral treatment techniques like acupuncture, massage, and music therapy as alternativess to address acute pain and prevent it from becoming chronic. Opioids would then be prescribed only when indicated.

Dr. Chester Buckenmaier, a professor at the Uniformed Services University and a licensed acupuncturist, agrees that these other pain treatment techniques are key to the future of pain management. While Buckenmaier is an anesthesiologist by trade, he teaches students at USU to take alternate treatments into consideration as they study to be the health care providers of tomorrow.

“The Defense Health Agency and USU are aggressively educating the next generation to look at these other techniques as first line treatments for pain,” Buckenmaier said. “We’re teaching them today that this is medicine.”

Outside the classroom, practitioners like Dr. Bhagwan Bahroo from the Psychiatry Continuity Service program at Walter Reed use yoga to treat pain in military hospitals.

“A good yoga session not only improves muscle tone, adds strength, and improves flexibility of the joints, but also helps bring peace of mind, reduces anxiety, and improves mood,” Bahroo explained. He added this method relieves pain intensity and increases daily function, two factors essential to successful pain management.

Acupuncture and yoga are only a few examples of nonmedication pain management treatments. Health care providers across the military are also exploring other approaches such as meditation and nutrition to combat pain while maintaining healthy, daily function. Battlefield acupuncture, or auriculotherapy, is already available at certain military hospitals, and TRICARE is evaluating the clinical effectiveness of traditional acupuncture, which could become a covered service in the future. With the implementation of the updated Defense and Veterans Pain Rating Scale, DHA will have a way to measure these techniques and their effects on pain.

“This is a cultural change that we’re bringing not only to our patients, but also to ourselves as clinicians,” Buckenmaier said.

Service members and civilians dealing with both acute and chronic pain are encouraged to explore these other techniques with their health care providers when considering an opioid prescription. For more information on how to manage pain, visit the Military Health System’s Pain Management page.

Read Mr. Thomas McCaffery's memo officially recognizing November as Warrior Care Month.  

You also may be interested in...

Article
Feb 9, 2024

Hard Times Lead to Passion to Serve Recovering Service Members

Hard Times Lead to Passion to Serve Recovering Service Members

For veteran Martin Del Rio, an Education and Employment Initiative and Operation Warfighter regional coordinator, the passion he has for his job and the recovering service members he serves comes directly from the turbulence of his own life experience.

Article Around MHS
Jan 11, 2024

How the U.S. Army Outfits Wounded Soldiers for Life After Recovery

Adaptive sports equipment, such as wheelchairs for rugby and basketball, are just a portion of the supply chain that soldiers in recovery use to thrive into their future as they overcome a wound, injury, or illness. (Photo by Mary Therese Griffin/Army Recovery Care Program)

There are many moving parts to the Army Recovery Care Program, not the least of which is adaptive reconditioning. This includes equipment and logistics for soldiers who want to recover and overcome their wounds, injury, or illness. “Part of our job is to help coaches, logistics folks, etc., work together to ensure our units and soldiers have the best ...

Article Around MHS
Dec 8, 2023

Are You Injury Prone?

Injuries are usually preventable in some way – they are rarely completely unavoidable accidents.  (graphic: Defense Public Health)

Do you know how many injuries you have had? Are there actions you can take to reduce your injury risk? Learn how to asses your injury susceptibility and the changes to reduce your injury risk and improve your physical performance.

Article Around MHS
Dec 4, 2023

Fort Campbell Soldiers' Innovation Helps Extremities Rehab for Injured Service Members

Commanding General, U.S. Army Medical Readiness Command, East, and Director, Defense Health Network East U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Lance Raney tests a simulated M-4 rifle charging handle that attaches to a strength-training machine to simulate real-life tasks for soldiers recovering from traumatic hand and upper extremity injuries. (Photo by Maria Christina Yager/Blanchfield Army Community Hospital)

A simulated M-4 rifle charging handle fashioned by an occupational therapy team at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital and refined by Fort Campbell’s EagleWerx Applied Tactical Innovation Center may gain broader use in other military hospitals and clinics after a senior Defense Health Agency official saw it demonstrated.

Article Around MHS
Nov 29, 2023

Green Beret Teams Up with the US Southern Command Warrior Care Program Care Coalition Competes in Department of Defenses Warrior Games Challenge and International Invictus Games

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jacob “Jake” Anthony competing in the 2023 Invictus Games held in Dusseldorf, Germany. (Courtesy photo)

Green Beret U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jacob "Jake” Anthony was deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 on a mission to find a target. His team was breaching a door that turned out to be booby-trapped, resulting in an explosion that killed his teammate in front of him. Anthony would take shrapnel to the right frontal lobe to his brain and had to be initially ...

Topic
Nov 28, 2023

Warrior Care

The mission of the Office of Warrior Care Policy is to ensure wounded, ill, injured and transitioning Service members receive high quality care and seamless transition support through proactive leadership, responsive policy, effective oversight and interagency collaboration.

Video
Nov 17, 2023

Warrior Care: Healing Through Art

Warrior Care: Healing Through Art

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Robert Scoggins describes his experience using art to recover from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. Scoggins art tells the story of his multiple suicide attempts and his journey to recovery. Scoggins, along with his art teacher, retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Greg Miller, displayed art at the Air Force Wounded Warrior Care ...

Article
Nov 14, 2023

Wounded Warriors Gather to Celebrate Day of Healing

Wounded Warriors Gather to Celebrate Day of Healing

The Day of Healing is an incredible showcase for the strength and resilience of our wounded warriors,” said Seileen Mullen, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “The athletes, artists, musicians, and more coming together to share their stories of recovery is an inspirational reminder of why we celebrate Warrior Care and ...

Article Around MHS
Nov 13, 2023

We May be Wounded Warriors, But We Can Still Serve

Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt Michael Johnson reflects on his time at Yale University through the Warrior Scholarship Program in June 2023. (Photo courtesy Michael Johnson)

Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt Michael Johnson reflects on his time at the Fort Belvoir Soldier Recovery Unit. “I was at the Fort Belvoir SRU after hurting my leg on deployment in Poland. I had perpetual headaches while recuperating, which led to imaging that showed I had lesions on my brain and, ultimately, the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.”

Article Around MHS
Aug 23, 2023

Forward Care for the Warfighter: U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command Talks Battlefield Countermeasures at MHSRS

Soldiers with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command perform a battlefield care scenario during the MRDC 2023 Best Squad Competition at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, on April 11, 2023.  (Photo: Danae Johnson)

With time spent on the battlefield being an increasing reality, products to help deliver immediate prolonged care to the Warfighter are now more important than ever. A concept known well by Maj. Zachary Booms, an emergency medicine physician at the Combat Casualty Care Research Team at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's Institute ...

Last Updated: July 11, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery