Keep veterans’ needs in mind when Addressing Opioid Epidemic

veterans are more likely to suffer from an accidental opioid overdose than the average citizen
Veterans fear losing full access to necessary medications to treat their pain under the proposed Opioid Stewardship Act.
Veterans fear losing full access to necessary medications to treat their pain under the proposed Opioid Stewardship Act.

No legitimate patient should ever worry about their access to essential medical treatments, especially our nation’s veterans.

Approximately 20 million veterans across the nation manage a range of difficult and painful chronic conditions every day, and many of these conditions were sustained during our time in the service.

Currently, more than 900,000 veterans current call New York state home.

Veterans work diligently with healthcare professionals to manage their pain and heal.

Oftentimes, these treatments unfortunately require prescription opioid medications.

I worry that the newly implemented Opioid Stewardship Act, which places a financial assessment on prescription opioids, would limit access to these very necessary medications and increase healthcare costs across the board.

These consequences are unacceptable.

It is important to note that the veteran community already has limited options when it comes to healthcare, especially in the rural areas of upstate New York.

Long distances to care facilities, difficulties finding caregivers, and health industry staffing shortages make it extremely difficult to access quality physicians.

Policies that hurt the healthcare system’s ability to deliver quality care would only aggravate existing difficulties, impacting veterans and patients in rural New York.

This is especially troubling for veterans as many of them are living off of limited income due to their injuries or chronic pain.

It is no secret that the illicit drug market contributes greatly to the opioid epidemic.

Drugs such as fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are coming in from other countries at record numbers, and the addictive qualities of these drugs, combined with their dangerous potency, make them deadly.

I find it hard to believe that added fees on the prescription medication of New York’s legitimate pain patients and healthcare distribution system would stop criminals from continuing to sell these fatal and illegal drugs.

Beyond the prevalence of illegal opioids in our communities, we should consider the range of other factors that contribute to the epidemic.

Mental health, especially among veterans, has played a significant role in allowing rates of substance abuse to grow to such devastating numbers.

As a result of mental health issues – sometimes sustained during service – veterans are more likely to suffer from an accidental opioid overdose than the average citizen.

These “invisible wounds” compound with symptoms of physical chronic conditions, and they must be considered when evaluating solutions to the epidemic.

Thankfully, there are changes to the way our healthcare system addresses opioid abuse that can greatly help veterans avoid substance abuse and get the help that they need. 
Improved prescription tracking and regulatory measures that prevent physicians from over-prescribing opioids can greatly mitigate the risks associated with prescription opioids.

The federal government has also allocated significant funding for states to improve their addiction treatment and response efforts.

Additionally, mental health services tailored to veterans have helped members of our community recover from addiction and even avoid drug abuse altogether.

Rather than imposing costly surcharges that could make it more difficult for veterans to access affordable healthcare, the aforementioned measures deserve more attention.

The opioid epidemic has disproportionately affected veterans for years, and we need to continue to search for effective responses.

It is imperative that lawmakers consider all of the unintended consequences of legislation as they continue to fight opioid addiction.

Rather than focusing on prescription opioids needed by honest pain patients, veterans included, proposed solutions must instead address the criminals who sell illegal drugs and the mental health disorders that contribute to substance abuse.

A well-rounded approach to this mission is critical.

Robert Bauer is a former U.S. Army sergeant from Rotterdam.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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