Back to Top Skip to main content

Getting creative: Reducing opioid use for returning warriors

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)

Recommended Content:

Opioid Safety | Pain Management | Warrior Care

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...

Warrior Care Month: Supporting the strength, resilience of service members

Article
11/14/2019
Dr. Paul Cordts, Deputy Assistant Director, Medical Affairs

Journey to recovery, rehabilitation is a collective effort

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

Warrior Care Month Recognition

Policy

This memorandum from Mr. Thomas McCaffery, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, officially recognizes November as Warrior Care Month, an important Department of Defense (DoD)-wide effort to increase awareness of programs and resources available to wounded, ill, and injured Service members, as well as their families, caregivers, and others who support them.

  • Identification #: N/A
  • Date: 10/25/2019
  • Type: Memorandums
  • Topics: Warrior Care

Soldier self-amputates leg to aid battle buddies

Article
10/9/2019
Army Spc. Ezra Maes undergoes physical rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid, Brooke Army Medical Center's cutting-edge rehabilitation center on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Oct. 2, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Corey Toye)

If I didn't help myself, my crew, no one was going to

Recommended Content:

Military Hospitals and Clinics | Warrior Care

Proper pain management with a proper scale

Article
9/12/2019
The Defense and Veteran’s Pain Rating Scale

A new pain scale that measures intensity and effects on daily life helps providers and patients better understand pain

Recommended Content:

Pain Management

I learned how to retrain my brain to manage chronic pain

Article
9/3/2019
Retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Jim Wilt

Active lifestyle, healthy diet can reduce reliance on meds

Recommended Content:

Pain Management

Wounded Warrior Policy Review

Congressional Testimony
8/23/2019

H.R. 5515, NDAA Conference Report for FY 2019, 115-874, Sec. 717

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

Real Warriors campaign breaks barriers to psychological health care

Article
8/14/2019
The Real Warriors Campaign member engages with a service member at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy photo)

Real Warriors has connected with more than three million people in the past decade

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

DoD Compensation and Benefits Handbook for Wounded, Ill, and/or Injured Service Members

Article
8/6/2019
Joint Service Color Guard (DoD photo)

The 2019 edition includes changes to DoD disability compensation, TRICARE health plans, education benefits, and more

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care

DoD Compensation and Benefits Handbook

Publication
7/16/2019

The purpose of this handbook is to provide Service members and their support networks with a reference guide to answer some of the most pressing questions that arise for wounded, ill, and/or injured Service members.

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care | DoD Compensation and Benefits Handbook

Opioid Abuse and Non-Opiate Pain Management

Congressional Testimony
7/12/2019

H.R. 6157, HAC Report for FY 2019, 115-769, Pg. 298

Recommended Content:

Opioid Safety | Pain Management

Opioid Safety Do's and Don'ts

Infographic
6/7/2019
This infographic provides a list of do's and don'ts if you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid.

This infographic provides a list of do's and don'ts if you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid.

Recommended Content:

Opioid Safety

Living with Pain? Retrain Your Brain

Infographic
6/6/2019
This infographic describes ways to retrain the brain's reaction to pain.

This infographic describes ways to retrain the brain's reaction to pain.

Recommended Content:

Pain Management

Opioid Safety 2019

Infographic
6/6/2019
This infographic describes what opioids are, and lists the safety precautions and signs of overdose of this class of drugs.

This infographic describes what opioids are, and lists the safety precautions and signs of overdose of this class of drugs.

Recommended Content:

Opioid Safety

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

Infographic
6/6/2019
This infographic describes the difference between acute pain and chronic pain.

This infographic describes the difference between acute pain and chronic pain

Recommended Content:

Pain Management

Dr. Cordts welcomes regional coordinators to training

Article
5/13/2019
Dr. Paul Cordts, Deputy Assistant Director for Medical Affairs, addressed coordinators from the Recovery Coordination Program during annual training. (Courtesy photo)

Programs and organizations that build relationships for service members and caregivers are critical

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care
<< < 1 2 3 4 5 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 5

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.