Chronic Pain Common Among Returning Soldiers

Published Online: Monday, August 4, 2014
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A substantial number of US soldiers returning home experience chronic pain, and many of them use opioid painkillers to cope, according to the results of a recent report published online on June 30, 2014, in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Members of an Army infantry brigade completed confidential surveys in 2011, 3 months after coming home from Afghanistan or Iraq. Soldiers who reported pain duration of 3 or more months were considered to have chronic pain.

Of the 2597 soldiers who completed the survey, 44% experienced chronic pain and approximately 15% said they had used opioids in the past month, compared with 26% of civilians who experience chronic pain and 4% who use opioids. Among those who reported using opioids, 62.6% only used the painkillers for a few days. Combat injuries were the main risk factor for both chronic pain and past-month opioid use, and 45.4% of soldiers reported injuries. Other risk factors for chronic pain included age of 30 years or older, current or previous marriage, medium or high levels of combat exposure, and screening positive for posttraumatic stress disorder or major depression.

Among those who did report chronic pain, 48.3% indicated that they had experienced the pain for a year or more, and 55.6% said their pain occurred daily or constantly. Approximately 80% reported using OTC pain medications, 19% used nonopioid prescription painkillers, and 23% used opioids.

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