MOUNTAIN HOME, TN (WJHL)- Right now more than 4,000 veterans are prescribed narcotics at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center, many of them on high doses, according to Mountain Home Chief of Staff Dr. David Hecht.
These veterans are prescribed the drugs to manage pain but can end up addicted and in some cases overdosing.
The Mountain Home VA is taking part in a national push to try and reduce the number of veterans on these types of medications.
“These are drugs that can be potentially deadly,” Dr. Thomas Edwards, Mountain Home VA Medical director of pain management said.
Those drugs are prescribed often in our corner of the state.
“Tennessee is the number one state in terms of prescription, opioid narcotics, and Northeast Tennessee is number one in Tennessee so by default that makes us number one in the country,” Hecht said.
“All of these drugs are potentially addictive,” Edwards said.
These drugs are known as opioids; drugs like morphine, oxycodone, and methadone.
“We have learned that the prescribing habits, not only at the VA but in private practice as well, has been exposing people to considerable danger,” Edwards said. “As a consequence the VA has decided to improve the safety of the prescribing habits and they have instituted the opioid safety initiative.”
At the Mountain Home VA, they have put together a team headed up by Edwards.
“Designed to educate providers, educate the patients on these medications and take specific steps to try and reduce the danger of prescribing these medications,” Edwards said. “One of the steps we take is try to identify the higher doses and try and wean those people down to more of a safe level if not completely off of their medications”
A mission especially important among veterans.
“Veterans have a much higher rate of overdose compared to the general population,” Hecht said.
Mountain Home leaders said they will not pull the veterans off these medications cold turkey, and they will aim to find other ways to control their pain.
“For example through acupuncture, through chiropractors, through physical therapy, with mental health help outside of the use of narcotic medication,” Hecht said.
He said they have already been able to wean some veterans off the narcotic medications.
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