New federal rules that make it harder to get narcotic painkillers are taking an unexpected toll on thousands of veterans who depend on these prescription drugs to treat a wide variety of ailments, such as missing limbs and post-traumatic stress.
The restrictions, adopted last summer by the Drug Enforcement Administration to curb a national epidemic of opioid abuse, are for the first time, in effect, forcing veterans to return to the doctor every month to renew their medication, although many were already struggling to get appointments at overburdened VA health facilities. And even if patients can get appointments, the new rules pose an additional hardship for many who live a good distance from the health centers.
Although the tighter regulation applies to everyone on opioid painkillers, it’s hitting veterans especially hard because so many are being treated for horrific injuries sustained during the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and have become dependent on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ beleaguered health-care system for medical care.
Starting around 2005-2006, the services and the VA, faced with an influx of badly injured veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, began to aggressively treat chronic pain with opioids.
Coupled with an tendency to automatically treat any complaint even approaching PTSD with an aggressive drug treatment program, that’s led to a lamentable tendency for veterans to be on some long term medication regime. Further down in the article is this bit:
Half of all returning troops suffer chronic pain, according to a study in the June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
There’s chronic pain, and then there’s chronic pain. We find the proposition that half are suffering from chronic pain to be…. unlikely. Of course, the way the VA and veterans benefits are structured, there’s an incentive for servicemembers to make a claim early and often, lest they be denied at a later date.
But there is a population of veterans who do suffer from real, debilitating long term pain that alternative therapies are unlikely to ameliorate. And of course, that’s the population that has been caught up in the new DEA regulatory scheme. As if dealing with the VA wasn’t trying enough beforehand.