Problem Opioid Use Among US Military Veterans: Prevalence, Correlates, and Psychiatric Characteristics

J Addict Med. 2024 Mar 18. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000001286. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Problem opioid use (POU) is a serious public health crisis in the United States. However, little research has examined the prevalence, correlates, and psychiatric characteristics of POU in vulnerable segments of the population, such as US military veterans.

Methods: Data were analyzed from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2441 US veterans. Multivariable logistic regression models were conducted to identify correlates and psychiatric correlates of POU (defined as a positive screen on the Tobacco, Alcohol, Prescription Medication, and Other Substance Use Tool).

Results: A total 3.0% (95% confidence interval, 2.0%-4.5%) of US veterans screened positive for POU. Black, non-Hispanic race/ethnicity (odds ratio [OR], 3.83), lifetime alcohol use disorder (OR, 3.38), major depressive disorder (MDD; OR, 2.52), greater number of medical conditions (OR, 1.15), and disability in instrumental activities of daily living (IADL); OR, 1.86) were independently associated with POU. A significant interaction between IADL disability and MDD was observed (OR, 10.73)-among veterans with IADL disability, those with MDD had more than 6-fold greater POU than those without MDD (20.6% vs 3.2%). Furthermore, POU was associated with 2- to 3-folds greater odds of current generalized anxiety disorder and current posttraumatic stress disorder, and lifetime suicide attempt.

Conclusions: POU affects 3.0% of US veterans and is associated with Black race/ethnicity, lifetime physical and mental health morbidities, as well as current psychiatric disorders and lifetime suicide attempts. Results underscore the importance of assessing physical and mental health disorders in veterans at-risk for POU and addressing co-occurring psychiatric disorders associated with POU in this population.