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Efforts to decrease opioid use; Ketamine infusion therapy; Yoga 4 Change; K9s for Warriors

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A row of American flags.

This week’s episode of What’s Health Got to Do with It? is devoted to veterans and the healthcare challenges they face. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, health news regularly focused on the opioid epidemic. While attention has shifted to fighting COVID, the opioid crisis continued to escalate. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 90,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. from September 2020 to September 2021, the highest number of deaths in a one-year period.

CDC data shows that veterans are at especially high risk for developing opioid dependence because of injuries and chronic pain.

In the past decade, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has prioritized decreasing opioid use and tracked a 64% reduction in the number of veterans using narcotic pain medication.

Guest: Dr. Natalie Strand, assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, director of pain research and director of neuromodulation at Mayo Clinic Arizona

Ketamine Infusion Therapy

If medications were celebrities, then you might say that Ketamine is having a moment. The drug got its start in Belgium in the 1960s as a veterinary anesthetic. The Food and Drug Administration approved it for use in humans in the 1970s for treating injured soldiers on the battlefields of the Vietnam War because it has minimal effects on heart rate and respiration. By the 1990s, it became a club drug by the name of Special K, known for its hallucinogenic properties.

Doctors started taking note of the medication again when emergency responders used it for agitated patients they rescued from suicide attempts. It became clear that Ketamine is a powerful agent for fighting depression and suicidality.

Ketamine infusion therapy now represents a beacon of hope for many diagnosed with severe mental illness and chronic pain. In response, dozens of free-standing clinics popped up across the U.S. to provide the therapy to patients for whom nothing else has worked. Veterans who live with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain can be good candidates for ketamine infusion therapy.

Guest: Kevin Nicholson, CEO, Ketamine Wellness Centers

Yoga 4 Change

Recently the VA launched a pilot study of veterans with chronic pain using a holistic health approach called “Whole Health” across its 18 flagship VA Medical Centers.

The “Whole Health” approach to care includes conventional clinical care, such as medicine or counseling, and complementary and integrative care, such as acupuncture or yoga, to create a treatment plan. The VA reports that already more than 100,000 Veterans have experienced a meaningful reduction of opioid pain medication use.

Yoga 4 Change, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit founded by a veteran, strives to achieve lasting change for veterans and other at-risk populations through a purpose-driven yoga curriculum.

Guest: Michelle LeClair, executive director of Yoga 4 Change

K9s for Warriors

According to the CDC, pet ownership can lower blood pressure and positively influence our rate of physical activity. Dogs help their owners cope with stress which can improve cardiovascular health and promote healthy aging. Moreover, research shows that the presence of a pet or therapy animal can help a person control daily anxiety, regulate emotional arousals and improve mood. Because therapy dogs are trained to be attentive to a person's needs, they can stabilize intense emotions.

Recognizing these benefits, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan PAWS Act. The law requires the VA to enact a five-year pilot program to provide dog training to eligible veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

K9s for Warriors is the nation’s largest veteran service organization focused on matching service dogs with veterans.

Guest: Rory Diamond, CEO, K9s for Warriors, and a Jacksonville city councilman

What’s Health Got to Do with It? Associate Producer Katherine Hobbs can be reached at khobbs@wjct.org or on Twitter at @KatherineGHobbs.

Florida Roundup Associate Producer Katherine Hobbs can be reached at khobbs@wjct.org or on Twitter at @KatherineGHobbs.