In a survey of U.S. soldiers returned from deployment, 44% reported chronic pain and 15% reported recent use of opioid pain relievers.
Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, Md., and colleagues surveyed nearly 2,600 active-duty infantry soldiers who were not seeking treatment 3 months after they returned from Afghanistan or Iraq in 2011. Chronic pain was defined as that lasting at least 3 months. Most of the participants were men, 18 to 24 years old, high school-educated, married and of junior enlisted rank. Nearly half (45.4%) reported combat injuries.
Results appeared online June 30 at JAMA Internal Medicine.
Past-month opioid use was reported by 15.1% of soldiers. Among this group, 5.6% reported no pain in the past month, while 38.5% reported mild pain, 37.7% reported moderate pain, and 18.2% reported severe pain.
Chronic pain was reported by 44% of soldiers. Among this group, 48.3% reported pain lasting a year or longer, 55.6% reported nearly daily or a constant frequency of pain, 51.2% reported moderate to severe pain, and 23.2% reported using opioids in the past month.
Twenty six percent of civilians report having chronic pain and 4% use opioids, the authors noted. “These findings suggest a large unmet need for assessment, management and treatment of chronic pain and related opioid use and misuse in military personnel after combat deployments.”
In a related commentary, editorialists noted, “While chronic pain and opioid use have been a long-standing concern of the military leadership, this study is among the first to quantify the impact of recent wars on the prevalence of pain and narcotic use among soldiers. … The nation’s defense rests on the comprehensive fitness of its service members—mind, body and spirit. Chronic pain and use of opioids carry the risk of functional impairment of America’s fighting force.”