Restrictions on Painkillers Complicate Things for Veterans

By Victoria Kim 03/03/15

Tighter restrictions means less access to veterans who need medications.

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When the Drug Enforcement Administration established tighter regulations on prescription painkillers last year in an effort to curb the prescription drug abuse epidemic, it took an unexpected toll on thousands of veterans who depend on these drugs to treat a variety of ailments, from chronic pain to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Previously, prescriptions of hydrocodone painkillers like Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab were permitted up to five refills and could be prescribed over the phone by a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. Now, hydrocodone prescriptions must be handwritten by a doctor and are limited to one 30-day supply with no refills.

Under the new rules, veterans are forced to return to the doctor every month to renew their medication at already overburdened VA health facilities. This is especially difficult for veterans who must travel for hours to get their medications. Many are suffering withdrawal symptoms as they struggle to renew their prescriptions in time.

Half of all returning troops suffer from chronic pain, so it’s no wonder that more than half a million veterans are now on prescription opioids and the overdose rate among VA patients is nearly double the average.

Last year, the VA was exposed for its widespread problem with patient backlogs, which revealed employees had covered up the length of time veterans had to wait for care.

In an attempt to ease the transition to the new regulations, the VA’s national director Rollin Gallagher said the VA is doing what it can to relieve the “real anxiety of being in pain and losing control of that pain.” The VA is pushing alternative therapies to help veterans cope with chronic pain, which include acupuncture, bright-light therapy, self-hypnosis, and meditation.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr