Drugs and Veterans

Drugs & Veterans by Jen Lee
October 25, 2017

I was in Denver, CO this past weekend for our season opener of the 2017-2018 Midwest Sled Hockey League. As you know, Colorado is one of many states in the U.S. which legalized the use of marijuana for medical, or recreational purpose. As marijuana becomes less taboo to many Americans, the social stigma toward this particular paraphernalia still exist due to its history.

Alcohol and many illicit drugs like marijuana became a persistent problem in the military, particularly during the Vietnam War. The amount of drugs consumed by armed forces members increased between 1968 to 1972. According to the Encyclopedia of the Vietnam, a sociologist named Dr. Clinton Sanders, examined and reported that “between 60 and 90 percent of enlisted men below the rank of E4 use one or more illicit drugs in the course of their stay in Vietnam.” The excessive used of the prohibited drugs by the military personnel eventually led the increased use of the epidemic of heroin in the 70s.

So why did I just give you a history lesson on drug exposure during the Vietnam War? Well as you can see, there is a huge pool of veterans today depending on these types of drugs. Many combat veterans who fought in either the Iraqi or Afghanistan war suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other physical injuries demand the use of pain medications prescribed by the VA doctors.

All of the prescribed medications given by the VA has led to numerous suicide attempts from the veterans due to their substance abuse of drugs and alcohol. Although marijuana could be a “gateway” to other hardcore drugs out there, I would rather see veterans expend the use of cannabis instead of prescribed pain medications.

I’m sure many of you would disagree with me on this, but I have personally witnessed the addiction of these pain meds it created on the veterans. Medications like OxyContin, or Hydrocodone has opium based ingredients which could cause long-term dependency and withdraws. These painkillers eventually lead veterans into a dark, downward spiraling rabbit hole.

When I flew home one day from a hockey tournament, I noticed a wounded veteran sitting in the same row as me. It was roughly 30 minutes into our flight as I witnessed the change of this veteran’s facial expression, and behavior when he consumed his prescribed pain meds with alcohol before takeoff.  The effect of the medications on this veteran reminded me of a heroin addict tweaking out in the middle of the day in downtown San Francisco. As I observed his droopy appearance while trying to engage in a conversation with me, his slurred words, and his constricted small pupils were barely open as he was disoriented from the situation.

His random cycle of alertness and nodding off in and out made me feel helpless, and sad for this veteran. I felt helpless because there was nothing I could do, or say that would get him out of his dark rabbit hole. I’m sad because we can’t deny there is a national epidemic spread of addiction to pain meds, and our veterans have the easiest access to getting their hands on them. This veteran not only was my brother in arms, he was also my teammate, and a friend. I couldn’t help but to think how his health could be in 5, 10, or 15 years from now; if he is still around.

 

Reference

Kutler, S., & Scribner, C. (1996). Drug and Drug Use. Retrieved from Encyclopedia of Vietnam War: http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/uhic/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow

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