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Unintended Consequences of Prescription Drugs on Veterans

medicationsWhile sitting in a class this past semester, Mike,* a veteran student, became angry over a statement made by the professor concerning events in Iraq. His violent outburst, which was out of character for him, disrupted the class so much that he was asked to leave the classroom.

I noticed something different about Mike’s mood at the beginning of class that day. When I asked what was wrong, Mike mentioned that the VA clinic doctor had increased his current cocktail of drugs for depression. I suggested that he go home if the medication was making him ill.

Just to give you a little background about Mike, he participated in both phases of the Iraqi war and spent time in Afghanistan. He’s a highly decorated soldier, a family man with a very supportive spouse and child. On campus, he is your typical student veteran – a leader in the classroom, a team player, and a student with good grades. His infectious personality and thoughtfulness attracts people to him wherever he goes on campus and in the community. So, the violent outburst that day caught most us off guard, including the professor.

My background and training helped me to recognize that his symptoms were related to anxiety and PTSD. I decided to escort Mike from the class to the Veterans Lounge. Once there he calmed down but expressed high anxiety, so we called his wife to come get him. While waiting he explained to me that feelings of paranoia and anger had never happened before. He felt it had something to do with the new mix of cocktail drugs he ingested prior to coming to class.

Upon his return to the VA clinic, Mike was surprised no reason was given for why the outbursts happened or for the feeling of paranoia. Instead, he was issued a new cocktail of drugs leaving Mike to wonder what new side effects would arise.

While researching this issue, I read an article that stated the violent tendencies exhibited by some traumatized soldiers and veterans cannot be written off as an aberration. The unprecedented use of prescriptions given to them began during the second Gulf War and continues unabated today.

Medical reports show that these types of reactions to VA-prescribed cocktails are happening to way too many of our service members. Congress is now working on a bill that would require stronger narcotic prescribing guidelines and education for VA providers, increased communication throughout VA medical facilities, and better accountability by the VA system for appropriate care.

Freedom to decide pharmaceutical fate should be in the hands of veterans. Until the VA stops trying to prescribe away the traumatic consequences of recent wars, service members need to be supported in their efforts to find their own path to recovery.

We will be addressing the unintended consequences that prescribed drugs are having on veterans and the options available to them in an upcoming VConnections workshop. Be sure to join our email list so we can let you know the dates and times.

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* name changed to protect privacy