(HealthDay News) — Forty-four percent of combat soldiers report experiencing chronic pain, and about one-quarter of those soldiers report past-month opioid use, according to a study published online June 30 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Robin L. Toblin, PhD, MPH, from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, MD, and colleagues assessed the prevalence of chronic pain and opioid use in U.S. soldiers after combat deployment. A total of 2,597 soldiers (93.1% male) who had been deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq were included in the final sample.

The researchers found that 15.1% of soldiers reported past-month opioid use. Of these, 5.6% reported no past-month pain, while mild, moderate, and severe pain were reported by 38.5, 37.7, and 18.2%, respectively. Forty-four percent of participants reported chronic pain (duration of at least three months), with 48.3% of these reporting pain duration of one year or longer. Almost one-quarter (23.2%) reported past-month opioid use, and few or several days of use was reported by 57.9%. Significant correlations were seen for chronic pain with age ≥30 years; being married or having been married; injury during combat; combat intensity; posttraumatic stress disorder; and major depressive disorder. Sex, age (≥25 years, being married, rank, injury during combat, chronic pain, and pain severity correlated with opioid use.

“The benefits of opioids for treating pain, particularly in those with combat-related injuries, must be balanced by careful assessment of risks, including the potential for misuse,” the authors write.

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