Skip to content

RBHS Chancellor will lead committee studying effects of prescription drugs on veterans

Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom will chair a committee of experts on veterans' issues, health and substance use.  – Photo by

Brian Strom, the chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, will head a national committee studying the impact of prescription drugs on veteran health, according to a press release.

This committee was created after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) requested that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) gather 13 experts on veterans, medicine and health.

Strom was selected to chair the committee, which will specifically investigate the relationship between co-prescription of opioids and benzodiazepines and veteran deaths, including those from suicide.

Approximately 17 veterans die by suicide each day in the U.S., according to the VA. Preventing suicide and looking into any potential contributing factors have been an increasingly urgent priority for the department in recent years.

Strom said individuals who take benzodiazepines and opioids concurrently are more at risk for developing side effects — a central hypothesis that the committee will examine.

"A combination (of opioids and benzodiazepines) … may be linked to potentially fatal health risks, such as respiratory depression and suicide," he said.

Strom said veterans deal with adverse health issues more often than civilians and have an increased likelihood of being prescribed drug combinations, which can be especially dangerous.

"Compared to civilians, veterans have higher rates of chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health conditions," he said.

Strom said that despite cautionary measures, attempts to wean patients off these medications can lead to complications and even death, which is another aspect that the committee will look into.

"Tapering a patient who is tolerant to opioids may actually contribute to adverse consequences, including suicide," Strom said.

The committee's work is mandated by the Hannon Act of 2019, which established broader mental health care and suicide prevention programs to evaluate and treat mental health conditions for veterans. The legislation is named after Commander John Scott Hannon, a Navy veteran who died by suicide.

The committee is expected to spend the next two years working on a report before publishing its findings on prescription drugs' effects on veterans.

"Understanding the effects could help inform the use of opioid treatment as part of chronic pain management," Strom said in the press release.

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe