News Search

Opioid and Medication misuse: A growing problem

Prescription pain pills are seen dumped out on a table at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind. Airmen who take prescription pills that are not their own or are taken after the time allotted could find themselves facing severe discipline. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Tech. Sgt. Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner)

Prescription pain pills are dumped out on a table. Airmen who take prescription pills that are not their own or are taken after the time allotted could find themselves facing severe discipline. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Tech. Sgt. Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner)


An estimated 2.4 million Americans used prescription drugs non-medically for the first time in the past year. That equates to more than 6,550 new cases of improper use each day.

Air Force members contribute to this statistic, too.

Prescription medication use falls into three main categories: correct use, misuse and abuse. Most Airmen fall into the first category and use their prescribed medication for the intended purpose and duration.

"In general, people start out taking their medications correctly," said Lt. Col. V. Christina Fairley, 86th Medical Support Squadron diagnostic and therapeutic flight commander. "Along the way, they become lost."

Misuse is when a person uses medication for any reason other than the prescribed use. This can include using medication outside of the timeframe designated by a medical professional or using medication not prescribed to you.

A common scenario that service members run into is when they are prescribed a pain medication for a legitimate reason, but end up with leftover medication. Rather than disposing of the medication at an approved facility, they keep it in their medicine cabinet.

A few months later, they develop a pain caused by work, PT or a minor injury. Rather than going back to the doctor for a prescription specifically for the new injury, they self-medicate with their prior prescription. If these drugs are found in their system during a drug test, they can be held accountable administratively.

"Some types of medications are highly addictive," said Fairley. "People start thinking 'One works great, so two will work better'. Soon, they are taking medication incorrectly, increasing dosage, quantity and duration. Once the ball starts rolling down hill, it is hard to stop."

According to Fairley, some of the most commonly abused drugs in the Air Force are those from the opioid family: Vicodin and Oxycontin. There is also an increase in the use of stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall.

Taking these medications when prescribed by a licensed professional can decrease pain after a surgery or help with recovery from an injury. However, if they are misused or abused, the individual misusing them may be subject to non-judicial punishment. Punishments can include the loss of pay or rank, base restriction, and a reprimand.

"Wrongful use of prescription drugs can end your career," said Capt. Jazmine Russell, 86th Airlift Wing military justice chief. "It may qualify as drug abuse for discharge purposes. If a case is considered a drug abuse case, the Air Force instruction requires a mandatory discharge, with a few exceptions."

According to the Federal Drug Administration, if your prescription has expired and you still have medication, do not throw it away or flush it down the drain. Base pharmacies have a disposal drop box for year round deposit of unwanted medications. These pharmacies also participate in National Drug Take Back Day, where people are encouraged to bring their expired medication to dispose of correctly.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, October 28, 2017.  Take back locations can be found at: https://takebackday.dea.gov/#collection-locator


"Education is paramount," Fairley said. "Individuals need to understand the potential harm that comes from misusing a medication."

Air Force Medicine


Facebook Twitter
RT @AirForceReserve: Happy #BillOfRightsDay! This day was designated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 15, 1941. The first 1…
Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group currently deployed to Bagram Airfield Afghanistan, want to wish e… https://t.co/FZkS5NntJq
Readiness remains our number 1 priority as the AFMS continues to reshape and modernize our medical force to meet th… https://t.co/fzIQcWq0Or
#DYK Medical personnel play a role in every space launch? For the most recent #SpaceX Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat E… https://t.co/9Lc0LcOuIv
After you quit smoking, your body goes through incredible changes which significantly impact your health and wellne… https://t.co/0PXGWHaZEP
Dental techs from the 386th Expeditionary Wing dental team had the rare opportunity to perform a dental cleaning on… https://t.co/fjr2YLYHeG
#TBT: At a medical Red Flag exercise, a civilian briefs Air Force and Marine Corps officers on a mobile hospital’s… https://t.co/9kQWf1M5I2
The frontline in modern warfare involves intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance (ISR), which presents unique s… https://t.co/21kXBFU2l0
In the wake of #HurricaneMichael, Airmen were eager to begin the rebuilding process at Tyndall Air Force Base, Flor… https://t.co/AKNzJ4ixNl
#DYK you are still at risk of dehydration when participating in cold-weather activities? Dr. Love reminisces about… https://t.co/dGuPtSgyX7
The AFMS strengthens public health capabilities of partner nations, & improves interoperability through Global Heal… https://t.co/gI4AJK0PkC
"I don’t care how severe my injury is, I want to be worldwide qualified as soon as I possibly can," said SMSgt. Dav… https://t.co/ICNRFWQIIi
RT @usairforce: #USAF medics from the 51st Medical Group joined the Center for the Sustainment of Trauma & Readiness Skills medical directo…
If you missed TRICARE Open Season, you still have time to enroll! For this year only, you can enroll in or change y… https://t.co/xS4iY14SEV
U.S. Air Force pararescuemen with the 79th Rescue Squadron aboard an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter rescued a civilian… https://t.co/wRus1dQECB
In case you missed it, one of our top articles this year highlighted Col. (Dr.) Yvonne Cagle, a Flight Surgeon turn… https://t.co/F9FOAsXOmW
SSgt Andrew Dailey modernized the USAFSAM learning experience via a new online & blended learning management system… https://t.co/Q6M6MBKRZg
Monday is the last day to enroll in a new TRICARE plan or change your current plan. The choice you make will take e… https://t.co/QReSEB71xd
In a deployed setting, mental health providers assist commanders with maintaining their Airmen’s overall health in… https://t.co/fkowyMEwlP
Only one week left to enroll in the 2019 TRICARE and Federal Benefits Open Seasons - don't delay! For more informat… https://t.co/4MwUSbAOpL