Veterans fight war on addiction

Watch Jason’s Interview

Jason Zearfoss is a marine veteran.

It was on one of those tours of duty that he got shot.

“In 2004, April 17th, 2004, I got shot in the head by a sniper. It went in through my right side– came out the back of my head.”

Jason was awarded the Purple Heart.

The injury and his tours of duty in a war zone took its toll.

“Alot of nightmares, going through a lot of depression, anger, keeping to myself.”

When Jason got out of the marines, he turned to heroin to ease the pain and mental anguish.

Amazingly, after a few months, he was able to kick the habit on his own.

“It was on and off for six months and then at the end of the six months I realized my rock bottom and I had to do something.”

Jason is a resident of the Soldier On program in Leeds which helps him stay clean.

Meanwhile, while the United States continues to deal with what’s been called the worst drug crisis in history, its veterans are also caught up in the opioid epidemic.

Chronic pain is a major issue.

Twice as many veterans returning from deployments in the Middle East suffer from chronic pain compared to non-veterans.

In fact, statistics show that veterans are twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdoses than non-veterans.

From 2010 to 2015, opioid use among veterans rose 55%.

68-thousand veterans with opioid-use disorders are living with addiction, and from 2001 to 2012, hydrocodone prescriptions rose an astronomical 4-thousand percent.

The VA is well aware of the problem and said it is taking steps to address it.

Meanwhile, Dr. Henry Rivera, program manager for outpatient mental health at the VA in Leeds, said the VA now offers a full range of care, including inpatient detoxification and stabilization, residential levels of care to various outpatients program like behavioral therapy and medication assisted treatment with less of a reliance on opioids.

“We know we’re making progress with this initiative. Between 2012 and 2014, veterans have been prescribed fewer opioids in the VA. I think this happens in the civilian worlds as well, but we’re doing our part and get the veterans off the opioids and provide them alternatives to help them manage their pain effectively,” said Dr. Rivera.

While many veterans turn to the VA for help, there are other organizations like the Center for Human Development that also lend a hand to veterans.

Dr. William Davila, who is the vice president of clinical services at CHD, said it’s important to look for warning signs and any unusual behavior.

So as America battles its opioid crisis, we know that veterans are especially vulnerable to its deadly consequences.

But despite addiction, there is hope, and stories like that of Jason Zearfoss.

“I’m 33 years old. I have two daughters. I want to be there for them, so I have goals and inspirations,” said Jason.

So as we honor our veteran this Veterans Day, let us think not only of our veterans who are serving our country here at home and overseas, but also our veterans fighting another war. The war of addiction.

Copyright 2016 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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