Dr. Deb Houry
Director, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC
The millions of men and women who have served in the armed forces are the ones on the frontlines keeping Americans safe. The United States has a responsibility to do everything possible to protect their wellbeing and overall health, especially by managing chronic pain and preventing opioid overdose or suicide. The emotional and physical costs veterans have paid in the course of duty are extremely high. An unfortunate consequence of protecting Americans against foreign and domestic threats is that many veterans live with debilitating mental and physical pain.
Safely managing chronic pain
Safe and effective pain management is necessary, especially since more than half of male patients in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) reported chronic pain in 2014. Additionally, veteran populations have a high incidence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), alcohol misuse, and suicide attempts. An average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day in 2014, emphasizing the need for strategies to identify, care for and support veterans who are suffering.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) collects data on opioids and suicide to better understand both issues, and shares the data and evidence-based resources with partners. CDC also builds strong systems to inform prevention efforts. For example, the agency administers the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), which collects data on toxicology, medical examiner and coroner reports and law enforcement reports on drug overdose deaths and suicides. NVDRS also contains the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS), which will report information from 12 states on unintentional fatal opioid overdoses to help us understand the circumstances that can lead to overdoses.
Solutions for veterans
In 2016, CDC released the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, which helps health care providers offer safer and more effective pain management and understand risks for prescription opioid misuse, addiction, or overdose. This guideline also features non-opioid and nonpharmacological therapies to help patients safely manage their pain. CDC also helps communities and states focus on preventing suicide with evidence-based strategies in its package, Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices.
Coordinated care, using data to drive action, and accountability are how to ensure that everyone works together to strengthen the fight to keep veterans safe, healthy and alive. By reducing the burden of opioid addiction and overdose and suicide in veterans, Americans show their deep appreciation for the sacrifices they make every day.