Report: Military not adequately handling addiction in the ranks

(CBS News) A branch of the National Academy of Sciences reported today that doctors in military hospitals appear to be overprescribing pain pills and the result is often addiction.

Thirty-year-old Michael Long still has the bullet he took in his back during a tour in Iraq in 2005. He says removing it would have been too dangerous.

Institute of Medicine calls drinking, drug abuse in U.S. military a "public health crisis"

He said the injury is still "extremely painful."

In a military hospital, he got hooked on painkillers.

Michael Long, a former Army solider, became hooked on pain killers in a military hospital after he was shot in the back in Iraq in 2005. CBS News

"At first I ended up taking them the way they prescribe them. When then they stop doing anything, you take twice as much as you're supposed to be taking," he said. "It's when you start running out halfway through and you're like, 'Oh my God, I'm addicted to opiates. I'm a junkie now.'"

He admitted he had to start doing "seedier dirty things" like dealing with drug dealers or buying the drugs off someone who else who has painkillers.

Long entered an Army treatment program but continued to abuse drugs. He was arrested and given a Bad Conduct Discharge, which meant he couldn't get veteran's benefits for future treatment of chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"To be honest, you're too afraid to admit that you have a drug problem to seek any type of help," he said.

Today's report calls the problem in military medicine "a public health crisis." It cites failures in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. It found outdated programs, poorly trained staff and a lack of confidentiality for patients.

"Once the discussion starts then the treatment can start as well," retired Lieutenant General David Fridovich said.

Fridovich became dependent on painkillers in a military hospital after a severe back injury. He calls substance abuse a wound of war.

"The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines - they're the ones that are paying the heavy price, and I think the nation has a debt that it can't walk away from for these men and women who've served," he said.

Long is now in a recovery program paid for by a private charity. The Department of Defense says it's analyzing today's recommendations and will work on areas that need improvement.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook