VA Western New York Healthcare System
Stories of substance abuse, relapse and recovery have been increasingly prevalent in the news. High profile celebrities are often featured, but this problem is affecting people from all walks of life. With increased awareness of both accidental and deliberate overdoses, many families are concerned for their loved ones. For Veterans, the dangers of substance abuse, including opiates may be especially heartbreaking.
“For Veterans, prescription opiate use may begin while in combat,” says Donna Sherman LCSW-R, VA Western New York Healthcare System’s Substance Abuse Treatment Program Manager. “We hear from some Veterans that when they were injured in combat and had pain, they were prescribed opiates for the pain and could continue combat operations. Over time, tolerance to prescription opiates continues to increase. When these Veterans return home and find they cannot get enough opiates by prescription, they may begin to seek heroin since it’s cheaper.”
Veterans have talked about the impact of stress related to deployments and transitions back to civilian life as a major factor in developing a substance abuse problem. The reasons an addiction develops can be as varied as individual Veterans. VA offers individualized treatment that takes all aspects of Veterans’ lives into account.
There are many VA treatment options for Veterans seeking help. VA offers a full range of substance abuse services; detox residential, outpatient and opiate replacement. Veterans are assessed for which program best meets their needs.
Sherman reports, “Early recovery from opiate dependence is a risky time for patients, as tolerance decreases with abstinence. If a Veteran relapses and takes the same opiate dose, respiratory arrest or even death can result, since he or she is no longer tolerant to that dosage.”
“Locally we’ve seen that opiate use has been on the rise in the general population and Veterans are not immune. More Veterans are seeking treatment for an opiate problem. Accidental overdoses have been observed nation-wide, making opiates a much more dangerous class of drugs. ” says Sherman.
Family members are an important part of the recovery process. A concerned family member can help in getting a Veteran into treatment. Once in treatment, family members can play a vital supportive role to Veterans who make a commitment to recovery.
If you or a loved one is experiencing substance abuse, please contact VA Western New York Healthcare System’s Substance Abuse Program at (716)862-8565, or the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to get the help. Veterans can also access help at VA Medical Center in Buffalo through the Emergency Department and through an open access clinic operating Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.