- U.S. military veterans have been heavily impacted by the opioid overdose crisis, with drug overdose mortality rates increasing by 53% from 2010-2019.
- The risks for overdose that veterans face need to be understood as resulting from an ongoing interaction among biological/physiological, psychological, and social/structural factors.
- Addressing drug overdose in the veteran population requires accessible and non-judgemental, low threshold, wraparound, and holistic solutions that recognise the complex aetiology of overdose risk for veterans.
U.S. military veterans have been heavily impacted by the opioid overdose crisis, with drug overdose mortality rates increasing by 53% from 2010-2019. Risk for overdose among veterans is complex and influenced by ongoing interaction among physiological/biological, psychological, and socio-structural factors. A thorough understanding of opioid-related overdose among veterans, one that goes beyond simple pharmacological determinism, must examine the interplay of pain, pain treatment, and stress, as well as psychological and social experiences-before, during, and after military service. Comprehensive efforts to tackle the overdose crisis among veterans require interventions that address each of these dimensions. Promising interventions include widespread naloxone distribution and increased provision of low-threshold wrap-around services, including medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) and holistic/complementary approaches. Interventions that are delivered by peers – individuals who share key experiential or sociodemographic characteristics with the population being served – may be ideally suited to address many of the barriers to opioid-related risk mitigation common among veterans. Community care models could be beneficial for the large proportion of veterans who are not connected to the Veterans Health Administration and for veterans who, for various reasons including mental health problems and the avoidance of stigma, are socially isolated or reluctant to use traditional substance use services. Interventions need to be tailored in such a way that they reach those more socially isolated veterans who may not have access to naloxone or the social support to help them in overdose situations. It is important to incorporate the perspectives and voices of veterans with lived experience of substance use into the design and implementation of new overdose prevention resources and strategies to meet the needs of this population.
U.S. military veterans and the opioid overdose crisis: A review of risk factors and prevention efforts
Annals of Medicine, 54 (1), 1826-1838. doi: 10.1080/07853890.2022.2092896. PMCID: PMC9262363.