Study: Chronic Pain, Drug Use Threaten Force

Washington Report

(July 1, 2014) A high rate of chronic pain and prescription painkiller use by combat veterans threatens the readiness of the nation's fighting force, authors of a study write.

A report published Monday by the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates more than 44 percent of service members who served in combat suffer chronic pain. Also, 15 percent have used prescription painkillers known as opioids in the past month.

"We were surprised by the percentages," said Robin Toblin, a psychologist at the Walter Reed Institute of Research and a lead author of the study.

In the general population, 26 percent suffer from chronic pain and 4 percent use opioids.

"War is really hard on the body," Toblin said. "I think that is the take-home message."

The study by Army researchers involved 2,597 soldiers in a  brigade that had returned from Afghanistan three months earlier. The authors wrote that their findings "suggest a large unmet need for assessment, management and treatment of chronic pain and related opioid use and misuse in military personnel after combat deployments."

The findings are a threat to readiness, they wrote.

"The nation's defense rests on the comprehensive fitness of its service members, mind, body and spirit," they wrote. "Chronic pain and use of opioids carry the risk of functional impairment of America's fighting force."