By Alicia Harter, Executive Director, Joseph House
Veterans Day is a time to honor the patriotism, service and sacrifice of the men and women of the United States military. Here at Joseph House, Veterans Day allows our clients to reflect on their years of service, share stories and honor their brothers and sisters in arms.
This Veterans Day, I encourage everyone who cares about our veterans to equip themselves with knowledge about how the opioid epidemic is affecting our country and our population of veterans.
The U.S. is gripped by an opioid crisis, and our veterans are especially vulnerable. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently released the results of its 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment, and the findings are grim:
Heroin-related drug-poisoning deaths almost doubled between 2013 and 2016.
In 2016, 63,632 people died from drug poisoning — that’s approximately 174 deaths per day — outnumbering deaths by firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide or homicide since 2011.
Controlled prescription drugs (CPDs) remain responsible for the largest number of overdose deaths of any illicit drug class since 2001.
As the second-most commonly abused substance, CPDs are often sold in the form of counterfeit prescription pills that contain synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.
In 2017, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl were involved in nearly 30,000 deaths.
Controlled Prescription Drugs are the second-most commonly abused substance.
What does this mean for our veterans? Consider these numbers:
Additionally, some veterans may take benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medication) for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Benzodiazepines and opioids are both sedatives that can be deadly if misused or combined.
A 2014 study examined 2,500 soldiers after a deployment and found that 15 percent regularly used opioids.
At Joseph House, between 70 and 90 percent of clients are addicted to heroin, compared to just five percent five years ago.
The numbers speak for themselves. The challenges veterans may face in civilian life can contribute to or be compounded by addiction. An interruption in health care coverage, changes in housing, job loss or general stress can place someone in an especially vulnerable situation in which drugs are abused or obtained through illicit means.
The road to life without addiction is a long one, both on the national stage and for our clients at Joseph House. Our programs feature long-term engagement that empower clients to address their addiction head-on.
Our clients share the unselfish commitment to serve others just as they did when they enlisted. The challenges of addiction are, in many ways, greater than the challenges they faced while in service.
We don’t leave our wounded behind, and we couldn’t fulfill our mission without the support of fellow veterans, families, communities and our partners. This Veterans Day, join our efforts in helping veterans sustain healthy lifestyles. You can even do something as simple as spend time with a veteran. Stay up-to-date on the opioid epidemic and how it is affecting our communities. Support organizations that help veterans stay on their feet.
Together, we can make a difference.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran struggling with addiction, please contact Joseph House at 513-241-2965.