Colorado military veterans were almost twice as likely to die from suicide in 2016 as the general population in the state was, a Veterans Administration report found. Other national studies linked veterans’ opioid use to higher suicide rates and accidental overdose death rates when compared with the nation as a whole.
Why Are Veterans Misusing Opioids?
It is not necessarily the opioids that are causing the overdoses and suicide attempts. One problem shared by many veterans is chronic pain caused by injuries or possible chemical exposure during deployment. Chronic pain is associated with suicide because it is difficult to live with and has many negative effects. Veterans with co-occurring disorders may also abuse opioids in an attempt to self-medicate to improve their physical or emotional well-being.
Although the high doses of opioids often given to veterans with chronic pain are meant to help them live with less pain and be able to function, opioids at high doses may be putting veterans at higher risk for accidental overdoses while not keeping the pain under enough control to prevent higher suicide rates. Most of the suicides in the study used firearms, not an overdose of the drugs themselves, and chronic pain may have still been a factor even with opioid use.
The relationship between opioid misuse and suicide is a complex one. Even the best research can only show an association or connection between opioid use and increased rates of suicide. It is clear there is a connection, but what that connection signifies is still unknown. Opioid use and chronic pain are common among veterans who have, in many cases, come to be in such pain because of their service to our country.
Women and Veterans Over 50 At Increased Risk for Suicide
While men were more likely to commit suicide, risks for men older than 50 and for women, two groups that did not previously have high risk, increased in the VA study. Women’s rates may have increased because more women are serving in the military, including in combat roles. Rates for men older than 50 may have increased because they typically do not receive high rates of services through organizations like the VA and may not have been getting the help they need from any medical professional.
Many states including Colorado have passed legislation to increase access to treatment for opioid misuse in an effort to reduce the number of overdoses across all groups, including veterans. Alternative treatments have also been put in place to prevent high doses of opioids from being used and to give veterans alternatives to opioid use.
Opioids have claimed more lives nationwide in just a few years than all the lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, and our veterans need help to avoid more additional deaths caused by opioid misuse. To learn about addiction treatment resources for veterans, contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake today.