Veterans Getting Hooked on Prescription Drugs

America's fighting men and women developing addictions to narcotics prescribed by the system meant to help them.
3:00 | 02/25/14

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Transcript for Veterans Getting Hooked on Prescription Drugs
Next now, we turn to the rults of a special investigation. A B kr NBC news addresses a kind of epidemic among American here rose, returning home, only to battle addiction to prescription drugs, and drugs provided by the very system meant to help them. It's about our new series about America's fighting men and women. Coming home clb America's promise. And ABC's Byron Pitts has the story. These are probably the most difficult ones to look at. Reporter: Snapshots of a father who by his own admission was anything but. Decorated army veteran Justin Minyard. A bronze star in Iraq. Here so stoned on prescription drugs he can barely hold his 3-year-old daughter. The war hero turned addict. Had everything going for me. And like a flash, that fast, you look up and it's gone. This was my family. Reporter: He's not alone. According to the center for investigative report, at V.A. Hospitals, the number of ripgss for highly addictive painkillers surged 270% in the past 12 years a rate far above the increase in patients. In fact, more than 50,000 veterans were treated by the V.A. For pin killer addiction last year alone. My life revolved around one thing, when is my next pill? Reporter: Minyard's road to addiction started hours after 9/11. There he is -- part of the rescue effort outside the Pentagon. He injured his back pulling a woman from the debris pile. More back problems, more prescription drugs when he fell off a helicopter in Iraq. Minyard says V.A. Doctors kept prescribing more painkillers. Soon, a full-blown addict, he tried to stop three times. It's a living, seemingly never-ending nightmare. I'm angry that there were better options, more effective ways to treat my pain. The priority was seemingly, treating me with whatever was the fastest, most inexpensive way. Reporter: Tonight, V.A. Whistleblower Dr. Baslman khulsi speaks for the first time. She was a pain specialist at the VA hospital in Kansas City. I saw what I saw and I had to do something about it. Reporter: Like other V.A. Drs around the country, she told us she saw an alarming trend. More and more patients addicted to painkillers. She tried to wean them off painkillers, but some of her patients came to her taking massive dozes, as much as 1,000 milligrams of morphine a day, ten times the level she thought considered safe. These veterans have their own set of issues. And then they are given narcotics generously, and that's increased and increased and then we have a problem. Reporter: You've used the word generous. It sounds like you want to say excessive. Very excessive. If the patient continues to complain, give them more. If they continue to have pain, give them more. Reporter: That doesn't sound like medicine. That sounds like enabling someone. This is the reason why the Numbers continue to go up. Reporter: Today, we took these troubling Numbers and stories to the veterans health administration. They told us they're announcing a program called the opioid safety initiative, use many of the same recommendations pain experts have been making for years. Drug free alternatives like acupuncture and yoga, which have had great success in treating pain. These are pretty new things. These are pretty new ideas. We owe it to them to find ways to treat their pain. And we're working on that. For has been 12 years of evidence that American service members are being overprescribed pain medication. Why hasn't it changed quicker? We're draszing it as quickly as we can. This is an absolutely serious issue to the agency, to my fellow physicians, and to me personally. Reporter: Because? Because I treat patients in pain. And the ultimate goal for us as physicians as an agency as VA is to get out guys back on their feet. Reporter: Those recommendations come too late for veterans like Justin Minyard and the years with his daughter he lost to his addiction. I just hope somebody who is dealing with chronic pain hears or sees this, and if they don't make same mistakes I did, they can still read their daughter stories at night. Reporter: All sides agree our veterans have paid a high price. Their pain is real. And the V.A. Insists they have found a new plan that works. The Numbers are staggering, Byron. What evidence is there that it does work? Reporter: Diane, they point to the success of test sites. In Minneapolis, the V.A. Says the use of highly addictive pain kill earls dropped by more than 50%. We'll see if the Numbers hold up nation national Al nationally. Byron, thank you. And now, we turn to

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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