Health experts say that increases in the use of prescription painkillers by soldiers and military veterans may increase their risk of turning to powerful opioids such as fentanyl. Increases in the number of injured soldiers due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a nationwide increase in the rate of opioid painkiller prescriptions, could place troops at risk of fentanyl abuse or overdose.
Several recent studies have shown that soldiers and veterans use painkillers at a higher rate than the general population due to injuries from their military service. Other studies have shown that patients taking opioid medications are about 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
John Bigger, the director of Behavioral Health and Sleep Center at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, says that the path from treatment with opioid medications to the abuse of stronger opioids like fentanyl or heroin is a familiar one. “[The soldiers] get injured somehow, they’ll get prescribed a painkiller, then when they become discharged, they’ve become addicted. Then suddenly, they’re away from military service, don’t get prescriptions anymore, so they go to the streets to get heroin.”
This increased risk of painkiller use and the likelihood that veterans who are prescribed opioids can have deadly consequences for Americans who served in the military. According to a 2011 report by the American Public Health Association, VA patients are twice as likely to die from a fatal overdose caused by prescription painkillers than the general population.
Treatment with opioid painkillers can lead to an increased risk of drug abuse involving substances besides fentanyl and heroin. For example, data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has shown that greater quantities of oxycodone—the main ingredient in Percocet and other painkillers—is sold in Fayetteville, North Carolina—the location of the Fayetteville VA Medical Center and Womack Army Medical Center—than throughout the entire rest of the state of North Carolina. Sales in the Fayetteville area of hydrocodone, another powerful painkiller drug, were the third-highest for any area of the state.
Much of this high rate of opioid use is attributable to the high amounts of opioid painkillers prescribed by doctors. Federal data shows that in 2001, VA facilities in the Fayetteville area prescribed hydrocodone to 1,130 patients; by 2012, 47,586 patients received prescriptions for the drug, 41-times more patients in just an 11 year span.
Similar increases in the rate of opioid painkiller prescriptions have been observed throughout the VA system. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of VA patients who received opioid prescriptions rose by about 77 percent from 2004 to 2012. By 2012, one in every three patients who were being treated at a VA facility was receiving prescription painkillers.
Although the Department of Defense and the VA have instituted measures to decrease the number of soldiers and veterans who are treated with opioid medications, neither agency has taken firm measures to address the risk of fentanyl or heroin abuse among patients who were previously treated with these drugs.
When doctors fail to follow established protocols for prescribing these fentanyl or other painkillers, abuse, addiction, tolerance, or deadly overdoses may result. When patients are prescribed too many painkillers by a doctor, or when these patients are kept on these opioid medications for too long, they may be at risk of suffering an overdose.
If you have lost a loved one due to a fentanyl overdose or a combined drug overdose caused by the interaction between fentanyl and other CNS depressant drugs, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit on your loved one’s behalf. The first step in determining whether you may qualify to file a lawsuit is to speak with an attorney with experience in handling fentanyl litigation.
The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are committed to helping patients and their families who have been affected by doctors or other healthcare providers who irresponsibly prescribe painkillers or other dangerous drugs to patients. Our law firm has represented numerous patients who have suffered complications from opioid painkillers and have handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch than all other firms in the U.S. combined. Our attorneys have achieved verdicts and settlements in fentanyl lawsuits on behalf of our clients totaling tens of millions of dollar. Our lawyers will work on your behalf to ensure that we achieve the best results in your case.
For a free legal consultation from an attorney to find out if you are eligible to file a fentanyl case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free case evaluation form located at the top of this page.