JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country are cutting back on the use of Opioids as part of an effort to protect veterans from overdoses and other complications, but some veterans fear the change could cause them more pain.
Despite veterans’ concerns, Mountain Home VA officials are convinced patients will receive safer, more effective pain management as a result of the change. The reduction follows new federal guidelines that warn Opioids are not only dangerous on their own and in combination with anti-anxiety medications, they may not be as effective as previously thought, Mountain Home VA Medical Center Opiate Safety Initiative Chairman Dr. Martin Eason.
“The last thing I want is for a veteran to die from an overdose,” Eason said. “I understand their fear, their anxiety and their anger, but I want them to understand this is driven by our concern for their safety.”
Mountain Home VA sent letters to patients considered at high risk of overdoses and other complications in September, warning the long-term use of Opioids for non-cancer pain is not as safe as once thought and even more dangerous for patients with other conditions. The letters alerted veterans the VA intended to reduce their doses to a safer level, if not eliminate the medication altogether, replacing it with safer, more effective alternatives.
Dr. Eason says research now shows the continued use of Opioids isn’t all that effective and isn’t worth the risk.
“When you initially give someone an opiate, there’s a temporary improvement in pain, but over time, your central nervous system adapts. Opiates make you feel good, there’s no question, but if you take it after awhile, you need to take the opiate just to have the opiate,” Dr. Eason said. “I get that it’s difficult, but it’s one of those things where you’ve got to trust us. This day and age, I know that’s difficult.”
Sid Daugherty says he received one of the VA’s letters. The Army veteran says for the last 20 years, doctors have treated him with oxycodone to manage his pain.
“I’m dependent on it,” “Daugherty said. “That’s the only thing that’s helped me.”
Now, after two decades of use, he says Mountain Home VA is tapering him off the Opioid, much to his concern.
“I’m scared to death. I’m absolutely scared to death,” he said. “If they quit controlling my pain, I’ll find something that will take it away. I have to. I can’t live like this.”
Dr. Eason says VA doctors will gradually taper patients off the drugs in a safe way that prevents withdrawals and improves their care.
“It’s not just, ‘Oh, we’re cutting off your opiates,'” Dr. Eason said. “It’s you might try this, this and this in efforts to try and improve a patient’s function. If you follow this schedule, no one’s going to withdraw. We’re just resetting your brain.”
Back at Daugherty’s house, it’s not that simple. The veteran says he’s tried every alternative available.
“Give me something I haven’t done before,” he said. “I know they have good intentions. They want to help, but they’re hurting.”
Mountain Home VA officials alerted Congressman Phil Roe (R), District 1, about the change and rationale behind it in September.
“While there is no question the VA needed to take steps to curb Opioid abuse, we will need to carefully monitor this policy to ensure it doesn’t deny veterans in legitimate need of Opioids the medication needed to manage their pain,” Congressman Roe said in a statement.
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