Prescription Drugs Taking Toll on Veterans
When Lance Pilgrim came back to his hometown in East Texas after serving in Iraq, his parents saw what they called a sadness in his eyes. He was prescribed painkillers for a hand injury. Soon he began abusing those drugs, and eventually he overdosed on methadone and hydrocodone.
Pilgrim’s was one of the hundreds of deaths of Texas veterans the Austin American Statesman’s Eric Dexheimer and other reporters looked into for a series that begins Sunday in the Statesman. They found a pattern of early deaths among veterans after they returned home that, for the most part, aren’t tracked by the military or the Department of Veterans Affairs.
KUT’s Matt Largey spoke with Dexheimer and reporter Brenda Bell about their investigation, which turned up causes of death for 265 returning service members.
The prescription drug numbers really startled us. About a fifth of them died of drug overdoses, and only a small handful of those were from cocaine, heroin, in one case ecstasy — that is, illegal drugs. The rest were prescription drugs, and of those, the majority were opiate painkillers, Oxycontin or hydrocodone and methadone. So taken together, about a third of our total population died either of a suicide or of a drug overdose.