The men and women that serve in the military undoubtedly return home much different than they left. Most return with a different look in their eyes. Their eyes have seen death; their ears have heard the sound of death, and their noses have smelled death. How could we then expect them to ever be the same? Repeatedly, there are mental health concerns that keep bubbling up and the tiniest little trigger can cause them to spill over.

Prescription Meds Can Change a Life In an Instant

This is what happened to Lance Pilgrim, 26, from Texas. Pilgrim joined the US Army. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq and Pilgrim was on the front line. When he came home he was not the same, says his mother, Judy. Lance was playing a football game at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and he broke his finger. An Army doctor prescribed OxyContin for the pain.

Pilgrim built up a tolerance to the drug and then it catapulted into a full blown addiction. Pilgrim no longer needed the medication for his finger but he was medicating his mental problems with it. It was a piece of cake to get refills. During the next couple of years Pilgrim went AWOL four times, was discharged from the Army, and was in and out of drug treatment centers.

Pilgrim’s last attempt at treatment resulted in him getting kicked out for fighting. Pilgrim was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite his history of drug abuse, he was sent home with a prescription for hydrocodone, another opiate painkiller.

Six days before his 27th birthday, Pilgrim’s body was discovered in a room at the Relax Inn dead from an apparent drug overdose. The autopsy showed a lethal level of hydrocodone and methadone. His death was ruled accidental.

There Has To Be Another Way

Among all veterans receiving VA services nationally in a single year, 2005, it has been calculated that 1,013 died of accidental drug overdoses, which is double the rate of the civilian population. Many service members were initially prescribed the medications during their active duty as treatment for physical and mental injuries sustained during their service.

Drug abuse has seemed to accompany all military conflicts. Recall the Vietnam veterans that came home from duty and many were heroin addicted. A 2010 Army study found that one-third of its soldiers were on prescription medications, and nearly half, 76,500 soldiers, were taking powerful and addictive opiate painkillers.

In 2009, military doctors wrote 3.8 million prescriptions for narcotic pain pills, four times as many as they did in 2001. This puts soldiers at a much higher risk for developing an addiction. A 2010 U.S. Government Accountability Office report calculated that 420,000 of 5 million veterans from all wars receiving treatment from the VA had been identified as having substance abuse disorders.

It has been discovered that stories like Lance’s are a dime a dozen. An American-Statesman investigation has found that, among the state’s veterans of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan receiving disability benefits when they died, a huge percent were abusing prescription drugs. Something needs to be done before we lose everyone to the dangers of Prescription Medicine.

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