The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, at a recent hearing on pain management problems, said that complaints of chronic pain are all too common with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. The Center of Investigative Reporting did a study that found that in the past 11 years, the number of Veterans treated by the VA has risen 29% and prescriptions written by VA doctors and nurse practitioners have risen 259%. Prescriptions for opiates such as oxycodone, methadone and morphine have risen 270% in the last 12 years. While the VA’s health care system tries to address pain issues appropriately, comprehensive pain care may not be consistently provide throughout the VA’s Medical Centers.
I have heard Veterans talk about the frustrations of having to go to multiple sites (Muskegon, Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, and Detroit) for treatment. Physicians at each location provide pain medications, but there is no coordination among them. A Vet may end up being treated with several prescriptions of the same medication, just packaged differently and produced by different companies. This may result in over-medication or over-dosing.
Recent media reports suggest that the rise in VA prescriptions corresponds with data indicating VA patients are dying of narcotics overdoses at twice the national average. It’s a fine line to walk for the VA physicians between decreasing pain in order to increase quality of life, and creating situations where veterans are addicted or over-medicated. We certainly need to see coordinated medication management for Veterans as soon as possible.