After a record number of soldiers came home from the Vietnam War hopelessly depressed and disheveled, America was forced to pay attention the lingering effects of post-traumatic syndrome (PTSD). Many soldiers took to self medicating themselves with the common drugs like heroin and alcohol.

Fast forward to 2012 and researchers are now observing similar patterns of substance abuse in soldiers dealing with the horrors of the our current, perpetual “War on Terror.” The only difference now is many troops are using prescription drugs, which can have tragic consequences, a government study suggests.

According to this Veteran Affairs-funded study, which was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, physicians prescribed opium-based pharmaceuticals, such as morphine and hydrocodone, to soldiers who were at high risk of alcohol or drug abuse at a rate two times higher than soldiers who only suffered from the physical pain of war.

Additionally, Iraq and Afghanistan vets with PTSD who already had substance abuse problems were four times more likely to get these drugs than vets without mental health problems, according to the study.

The most troubling aspect of this study was the prevalence of subsequent suicides, other self-inflicted injuries, and drug and alcohol overdoses, which were all more common in vets with PTSD who got these drugs.

According to the Associated Press, doctors are careful when prescribing opioids for physical pain because of drug’s high addiction rates but some doctors likely prescribe them for vets who also have mental pain “with the hope that the emotional distress that accompanies chronic pain will also be reduced. Unfortunately, this hope is often not fulfilled, and opioids can sometimes make emotional problems worse,” said Michael Von Korff, a chronic illness researcher with Group Health Research Institute, a Seattle-based health care system.

No one wants to see a population of young men and women walking around society addicted to pharmaceuticals. These soldiers pose a risk to themselves and their families and communities.

And with the Obama administration’s recent proposed hike in health care costs for veterans, it may lead cash-strapped soldiers to turn to illicit drug use to help maintain their addiction to mood-altering pharmaceuticals.

It’s imperative to talk to our homecoming troops, helping them adjust back to civilian life by providing professional counseling, job-training, and communal bonding.

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