Commentary: Opioid crisis impacts veterans, military families

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Long after active duty ends, U.S. service members and military families face a different battle — the opioid overdose epidemic. 

Opioid overuse kills nearly 100 people in America every day, and Tennessee is ranked third in the country for prescription drug abuse. Further, a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study shows veterans are twice as likely to die from overdose as civilians.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of veterans addicted to opioids rose 55 percent to roughly 68,000 individuals. That figure represents about 13 percent of all veterans currently prescribed opioids. More than 63 percent of veterans receiving chronic opioid treatment for pain also have a mental health diagnosis.

What’s more daunting is that many veterans haven’t received adequate treatment due to numerous barriers. Those include the stigma associated with seeking help, lack of access to a variety of treatment options and not enough understanding about the complexity of mental health and addiction, especially as it relates to service members’ experience.

Last month, joined by almost 1,000 advocates, Centerstone leaders attended the National Council for Behavioral Health’s annual Hill Day in Washington D.C. to discuss why it’s important for all Americans to have access to quality behavioral health services. As a mental health provider, Centerstone uses evidence-based methods to help individuals working to overcome opioid addiction, from medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and intensive outpatient services to clinical case management, peer support services and counseling. 

Centerstone is committed to delivering care that changes people’s lives, including the lives of our service members and veterans. Centerstone Military Services helped more than 11,000 people across the United States in 2015-16. For example, Sgt. Ray Moser in Tennessee made the decision to seek counseling through Centerstone Military Services after decades of failed personal relationships, plus social and emotional issues related to balancing his civilian and military lives. He gained the essential tools and support to make better decisions and guide him to a better personal and professional life.

Help is available, and recovery is possible. One of the most crucial steps is asking for help. Numerous treatments, facilities and rehabilitation options are in place to help our service members, Veterans and their loved ones. In addition to behavioral health services, Centerstone offers online support groups to the entire family, because we know addiction has a ripple effect on individuals, families and communities.

This November, in acknowledgment of Veterans Day, Centerstone is showing its gratitude to military families and honoring those who have served and made sacrifices for America. While full repayment for service members or their families for their patriotism maybe can never be reached, Centerstone thanks these heroes every day and supports them in finding and accessing the services they need to thrive. 

Individuals and corporations are invited to join in supporting these heroes through charitable gifts and partnerships. To learn more, visit centerstone.org/militaryservices.

Retired Col. Kent Crossley is the executive director of Centerstone Military Services, which offers confidential, free services to individuals and families facing post-traumatic stress disorder and other invisible wounds of military service.

Dr. Bob Vero is CEO of Centerstone, overseeing the company’s Tennessee-based operations. Centerstone is a not-for-profit health care organization dedicated to delivering care that changes people’s lives.

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