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Associations Between Spouse and Service Member Prescriptions for High-Risk and Long-Term Opioids: A Dyadic Study

Alicia C. Sparks, Sharmini Radakrishnan, Nida H. Corry, Doug McDonald, and Kenneth Carlson: Abt Global; Carlos E. Carballo and Valerie Stander: Deployment Health Research Department, Naval Health Research Center


July 8, 2021

Research suggests that following a combat deployment, approximately 15% of military service members may misuse pain relievers in a year period (Toblin et al., 2014). Less is known about military spouses, who may be at risk because of the stresses of military life. However, research shows that married partners’ substance use patterns may be influential to one another (Simmons et al., 2006; Cavacuiti, 2004). Given that family health is essential in supporting military force readiness, we explored the dyadic relationship between the receipt of high-risk opioid prescriptions among service members and their spouses. 

Among 7% of spouse and service member dyads, at least one partner met criteria for high-risk opioid use. Furthermore, we found strong associations between spouse and service member opioid therapies. Findings suggest that reducing the number of long-term and high-risk opioid prescriptions to service members may reduce the number of similar prescriptions that spouses obtain. The DoD and Military Health System have implemented risk mitigation approaches to ensure that service members receive appropriate opioid prescriptions. This study indicates the success of these efforts may reduce the risk for spouses as well.