The federal government’s effort to reduce opioid painkiller prescriptions among U.S. veterans has left many of them struggling with chronic pain, the Star Tribune reports.
The Minneapolis VA Medical Center has been cutting dosages and cancelling prescriptions, and instead steering many veterans to alternative therapies such as yoga and acupuncture. But these services are in short supply. The medical center has one chiropractor on staff for the more than 90,000 veterans it serves annually.
While prescription drug addiction among veterans dropped after the policy change, veterans say they are left to deal with pain on their own, or seek other sources to relieve their pain, the newspaper reports.
Almost 60 percent of returning veterans list chronic pain as their most common medical problem, according to the article. For many years, VA doctors prescribed an increasing number of pain pills. The number of prescriptions from the VA for opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine jumped 259 percent nationwide during the 11-year period ending in 2013.
To combat a growing number of overdoses, drug suicides and reports of drug diversion, legislators and some veterans groups urged the VA to adopt more stringent pain management protocols. The Drug Enforcement Administration in 2012 imposed new rules on VA-prescribed painkillers.
At the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, the number of veterans on long-term high-dose opioids dropped by 78 percent between 2011 and 2014.
Some veterans were told they were being taken off their pain medication, without offers of assistance, the article notes. “There wasn’t a lot of discussion with the veteran except for the provider saying, ‘We’re not going to be doing this anymore because it’s not good for you,’ ” said Joy Ilem, of Disabled American Veterans, one of the nation’s largest veteran service groups.