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Opioid addiction becoming an issue among military vets

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The opioid addiction is a true crisis in the United States.

"They think just because it's a pill they should do it,” Jesus Manuel Fuentes said.

"It's a huge problem,” Mike Amaral, director of the El Paso VA Hospital, said.

Fuentes lives in Northeast El Paso. He also served in the United States Army for six years. He was injured badly during his service.

"They had to put a plastic plate in my head," Fuentes said.

He was prescribed an opioid-based pain killer similar to Vicodin. The pills sent him on a dark path.

"I prescribed myself for pain for stuff like that and I started using heroin,” Fuentes said. "I would wake up in the morning and that's the only thing I would think about."

Fuentes got clean in 2013, after fighting addiction since the 1970s. Amaral say it’s a problem that still exists today.

"When I worked in the Army Substance Abuse program for DOD, we identified the number of positive heroin cases we had were increasing,” Amaral said.

The VA's most recent numbers show 68,000 - roughly 13 percent of - veterans who are prescribed painkillers get hooked on them.

"With some of the number of drugs that our veterans are on, we have to taper them off,” Amaral said. “We have to at least reduce those dosages and give it a shot."

Amaral credits non-traditional forms of medicine like acupuncture for helping veterans overcome addiction.

It's a life Fuentes is glad he left behind.

"I couldn't afford that life doing what I was doing,” Fuentes said. “On the street every day; sometimes I got caught, I would go to jail, get released and be back next week. It had to stop one way or another."

For more information on long-term opioid therapy, visit the VA’s website: https://www.va.gov/PAINMANAGEMENT/Opioid_Safety_Initiative_OSI.asp

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