US war veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from drug addiction, particularly those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
US government and healthcare officials have been struggling to stem the epidemic of overdoses, which killed more than 64,000 Americans last year alone, up from 52,000 the previous year. More than half were related to opioids.
US President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency” last month, describing the epidemic as a "national shame" and "human tragedy."
The declaration will redirect federal resources and loosen regulations to combat a drug epidemic that kills more than 150 Americans every day.
“Our veterans deserve better than polished sound bites and empty promises,” said former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a recovering drug addict and a member of Trump’s opioid commission, as well as the nephew of former US President John F. Kennedy.
One effort to address the issue has stalled in Congress, a measure sponsored by Senator John McCain, one of the nation’s most visible veterans. The bill is aimed at researching ways to help doctors at the US Department of Veterans Affairs rely less on opioids in treating chronic pain.
McCain, who fought in the Vietnam War, noted that 20 veterans take their lives each day, a suicide rate 21 percent higher than for other American adults.
Health experts have warned that the opioid crisis in the United States may spread to Europe.
Europe's overdose deaths rose for the third consecutive year in 2015 to 8,441 and 81 percent of them were related to opioids, which include heroin.