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article imageHuman Rights Watch calls for better treatment for addicted vets

By Ben Morris     Jul 6, 2014 in Politics
New York - A recent report published by Human Rights Watch has found half a million veterans returning home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have become dependent on drugs.
The report titled, No Time to Waste: Evidence-Based Treatment for Drug Dependence at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, has found a strong link between drug and alcohol dependence, homelessness, and mental illness amongst American veterans. The paper suggests 40 percent of veterans returning soldiers who suffer from PTSD and depression turn to alcohol and prescription drugs to treat the symptoms of those debilitating diseases.
Megan McLemore, the author of the report argued, “Hundreds of thousands of veterans are struggling with chronic pain, drug dependency, mental health conditions, and homelessness — conditions that are often deeply intertwined." McLemore added the VA has responded with effective programs to tackle the issue, but have become handcuffed by the failures of policy and implementation of the programs.
Around 8 percent of Americans suffer from PTSD at some point of their lives, Of those 8 percent, up to 20 percent of veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are afflicted with the diseases that cause symptoms like increased anxiety and the re-imaging of traumatic events. These soldiers who have witnessed friends and fellow soldiers getting violently killed in front of them are turning to intoxicants at a high level, without the resources to help treat the trauma.
The VA, a department under intense scrutiny for the deaths of 40 veterans awaiting care, have initiated three pilot programs that push for further education regarding overdosing, as well as making the drug naloxone more available to opiate addicted veterans. naloxone is an opioid antagonist used along with therapy to reduce the dependence on opioids, and is considered the best way to ween addicts of the drugs. Human Rights Watch applauds the VA for promising access to the drug in all VA hospitals by the end of 2014, but argues, "the VA should ensure all veterans who need to can access naloxone through community organizations and other means."
Human Rights Watch suggests the U.S Congress is not doing enough to help. The organization is calling for congress to, "Ensure adequate funding for the Veterans Health Administration to sustain expanded access to naloxone to veterans at risk of opioid overdose." As well as providing adequate housing for the veterans who are without a home. Those veterans who do not have a place to call home is not few and far between
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported, of the more than 600,000 homeless Americans, 57,849 of them were veterans. Although the rate of homelessness amongst veterans have declined, the number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental illness could stall any success.
The number of Americans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is astronomical. 2.2 million men and women have served in those countries since 2001. The two wars represented the most repeated deployments, for the longest duration in America's history. In response to those long repeated deployments, the abuse of prescription drugs doubled between 2002-2005, and then tripled between 2005-2008.
Prescription drug abuse and returning servicemen can have dangerous implications. One veteran, Kyle Wesolowski returned from a year-long deployment and was prescribed seven different drugs, which caused him to have homicidal fantasies. In a story published by the International Business Times, author Dr, Peter Breggin claimed a “massive prescription drug epidemic” exists amongst veterans of the wars.
The report by Human Rights Watch is calling for Washington to combat the problem by allowing treatment outside the VA hospitals that are overwhelmed with a large amount of patients they can't handle. The need to transfer care to other organizations and hospitals is need to save the lives of veterans.
More about Veterans affairs, Homeless veterans, Prescription drug abuse, Addiction, Iraq war
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