Long-term prescription opioid use among US military service members injured in combat

Michael K. Dalton, Adoma Manful, Molly P. Jarman, Alfred J. Pisano, Peter A. Learn, Tracey P. Koehlmoos, Joel S. Weissman, Zara Cooper, Andrew J. Schoenfeld*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION: During the Global War on Terrorism, many US Military service members sustained injuries with potentially long-lasting functional limitations and chronic pain. We sought to understand the patterns of prescription opioid use among service members injured in combat. METHODS: We queried the Military Health System Data Repository to identify service members injured in combat between 2007 and 2011. Sociodemographics, injury characteristics, treatment information, and costs of care were abstracted for all eligible patients. We surveyed for prescription opioid utilization subsequent to hospital discharge and through 2018. Negative binomial regression was used to identify factors associated with cumulative prescription opioid use. RESULTS: We identified 3,981 service members with combat-related injuries presenting during the study period. The median age was 24 years (interquartile range [IQR], 22–29 years), 98.5% were male, and the median follow-up was 3.3 years. During the study period, 98% (n = 3,910) of patients were prescribed opioids at least once and were prescribed opioids for a median of 29 days (IQR, 9–85 days) per patient-year of follow-up. While nearly all patients (96%; n = 3,157) discontinued use within 6 months, 91% (n = 2,882) were prescribed opioids again after initially discontinuing opioids. Following regression analysis, patients with preinjury opioid exposure, more severe injuries, blast injuries, and enlisted rank had higher cumulative opioid use. Patients who discontinued opioids within 6 months had an unadjusted median total health care cost of US $97,800 (IQR, US $42,364–237,135) compared with US $230,524 (IQR, US $134,387–370,102) among those who did not discontinue opioids within 6 months (p < 0.001). CONCLUSION: Nearly all service members injured in combat were prescribed opioids during treatment, and the vast majority experienced multiple episodes of prescription opioid use. Only 4% of the population met the criteria for sustained prescription opioid use at 6 months following discharge. Early discontinuation may not translate to long-term opioid cessation in this population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S213-S220
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Opioids
  • combat injuries
  • military health
  • trauma


Dive into the research topics of 'Long-term prescription opioid use among US military service members injured in combat'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this