White House Report Puts Spotlight on Military, Veteran Drug Abuse

by U.S. Medicine

August 16, 2011

WASHINGTON — A recent report on federal government plans to curb drug abuse puts added emphasis on the active-duty military and the veteran population. It also focuses more attention on misuse of prescription drugs and, as far as recovery efforts go, on mental health.   

According to the 2011 National Drug Control Strategy released last month, while illicit drug use remains rare in the military, the misuse of prescription drugs has increased dramatically in that population over the last five years. A 2008 DoD survey showed that 11.9% of active-duty military reported current illicit drug use, including nonmedical use of prescription drugs.

Due to regular drug testing, the use of illicit drugs is still relatively rare, but prescription drug misuse is estimated at 11.5% in the military population — more than double in the civilian population in the same age group (18-64). Also, it has been widely found that injuries and trauma experienced during military service can lead to inappropriate drug use and other negative behaviors later in life.  

DoD has created a Pharmacovigilance Center, the purpose of which is to monitor possible misuse of prescription drugs and assess the effectiveness of prescription policy within the DoD system. However, drug diversion, drug sharing and prescriptions obtained outside of the DoD system may have contributed to the increase in prescription misuse in recent years and cannot be tracked through the Pharmacovigilance Center, according to the report.

In the strategy document released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), President Obama directed his Cabinet to develop a comprehensive approach to supporting military families, which includes enhancing psychological and behavioral health, and to expand support services not just for active-duty military, but also for Guard and Reserves.

DoD also will partner with ONDCP to enhance that department’s ability to identify misuse by exploring data-sharing capabilities with existing state prescription drug monitoring programs.

White House Report Puts Spotlight on Military, Veteran Drug Abuse Cont.

Targeting Jailed Veterans

The ONDCP also will work with federal health agencies to support programs designed to intervene with veterans in prison or who are about to be released from prison. According to the strategy, DoD, VA, HHS and the Department of Justice will work together to examine the role of TBI and PTSD in substance abuse among incarcerated veterans. ONDCP also will encourage the use of veteran’s treatment courts.

Such courts, based on the drug-court model, work to help keep in treatment drug-addicted or mentally-ill individuals facing incarceration. Veterans treatment courts include a partnership with VA and other veteran-support organizations.

Focus also will increase on veterans about to be released from prison. According to the ONDCP, of the approximately 140,000 veterans in federal and state prisons, about 40,000 are released each year. A recent survey revealed that an estimated 60% of them struggle with a substance-abuse disorder. Along with substance-abuse disorders, many have mental-health problems, which, if left untreated, help contribute to the homeless-veteran population.

VA currently attempts to reach these veterans through the Healthcare for Reentry Veterans Program, in which VA conducts prerelease assessments with veterans six months prior to release. The goal is to connect these veterans with critical services, such as substance-abuse treatment and VA health care at the time of their release.

According to VA, the program is conducted in 72% of U.S. prisons and, in the last three years, has assisted 25,000 veterans, approximately 45% of whom access VA outpatient services during their first year out of prison.  While VA has made significant efforts to reach veterans, however, this represents less than one-fourth of the approximate 120,000 veterans released from incarceration during those three years.

 ONCDP plans to partner with VA to explore ways to better identify incarcerated veterans with substance-abuse disorders and conduct reentry planning at an earlier phase of incarceration.

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