Opioid use among active-duty soldiers dropped more than 3 percentage points from 2012 to 2016, according to the Army surgeon general, thanks in part to the Army’s efforts to find alternate methods of pain management.
“This addiction problem recognizes no distinction between those who wear the uniform and those who don’t,” said Lt. Gen. Nadja West, speaking at a family forum during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.
Opioid use fell from about 10.5 percent in 2012 to about 7 percent in 2016, according to a chart West showed during her presentation.
Army medical officials set up a pain management task force in 2010 that identified 109 recommendations to address the issue, and a number of improvements are underway, West said.
Officials are looking at a variety of alternatives to the prescription pad, such as tai chi, acupuncture and yoga, she said.
OTHER CARE CHANGES
The Army medical community has been working on a variety of ways to improve the health and well being of Army families, she said, such as increasing access to care.
Because of changes West directed related to accessing health care, patients at Army medical treatment facilities now can make appointments six months ahead, West said. Primary care is now available during every training holiday. Adjustments and extensions of clinic hours have resulted in 680,000 annual primary care appointments, she said.
Army medical officials also have worked to increase access to behavioral health for families, bringing the care closer to where the families live and work, and go to school. They’ve integrated behavioral health with primary care in some outpatient centers.
They also have behavioral health providers to support military children in schools. This allows children to see a provider without having to leave school for all or part of a day. The move has been very well-received, West said.
West highlighted the Army Wellness Centers, which are focused on sleep, nutrition and activity in their efforts to help soldiers and family members make healthy choices, such as maintaining a healthy weight and stopping tobacco use.
There are 35 wellness centers on or around Army installations, she said, and more are coming. The most recent opened at Fort Eustis, Virginia, last month.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.