An alarming investigation by CBS News has uncovered that veterans coming home from the battlefield may face unexpected dangers while receiving treatment from Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. The recent report found that veterans have been dying of accidental medication overdoses at a far higher rate than the general public, something that has caused alarm among many in the military who say the country owes its veterans better care than what they are receiving.
One especially tragic case highlighted by CBS concerns a specialist in the Army who had served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. His grueling years fighting led to serious back pain and when he came home doctors at an Ohio VA hospital gave him eight powerful pain and psychiatric medications.
His wife says that his prescriptions got out of control, with doctors prescribing ever-higher doses. Finally, a doctor added a ninth pill, Percocet, which proved to be the straw that broke the man’s back. Despite taking the pills as instructed, the veteran overdosed and died at home, with a coroner finding that he had been overmedicated due to the combined effects of five of his different medications.
The trouble has been enough to prompt former VA doctors to come forward with their worries about the care veterans receive. Several told reporters that the increase in patient load at VA healthcare facilities has resulted in a push for doctors to prescribe more pain medication, something that acts as a band aid to treat patients with more complicated conditions. The powerful narcotics help ease the workload and results in veterans coming in less often. However, many concerned doctors claim that the patients receiving these powerful drugs are often not monitored closely which can lead to disasters like the one mentioned above.
Reporters took these concerns and delved into VA records and what they found was shocking. According to the VA’s own data, the number of patients treated by the VA has risen 29 percent in the past 11 years, a rise that has a lot to do with the strain the military has been under fighting two wars. However, during this same period the number of narcotic prescriptions written by doctors at the VA has gone up 259 percent.
These high levels of pain pill prescriptions lead to medication interactions and trouble, with reports showing that veterans die from accidental narcotic overdoes at 33 percent higher rates than nonveterans. In response, the VA has only said that it is committed to ensuring that patients are aware of the risks and benefits of narcotics. The hope is that attention like this raises red flags for VA doctors and others about the dangers of overmedication and how important it is that doctors closely monitor patients who have been prescribed powerful drugs.