Subcommittee Examines VA Pain Management Practices

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WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on pain management programs and the use of medications, particularly opioids, to treat veterans experiencing acute and chronic pain.  According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), pain is the most frequent complaint for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and studies show that more than half of VA’s male primary care patients report experiencing chronic pain.
“Providing safe, effective, and adequate pain management is a crucial component of improving veterans’ health care,” said Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA ), the subcommittee’s ranking member. “I know VA recognizes that chronic and acute pain among our veterans is a serious problem. I appreciate them for making this issue a priority, but I’m concerned that comprehensive pain care is not consistently provided throughout the VA’s health care system. Witnesses today highlighted the dangers of opioid use and just how quickly veterans can get trapped in a rapid downward spiral of addiction and pain. They also pointed to ways that VA’s pain management practices must be improved. We owe it to our veterans to do more.”
In November of last year the Government Accountability Office released a report which found that the VA and Department of Defense do not effectively manage the medication needs of all servicemembers during their transition from active duty to veteran status.
Recent media reports from the Center of Investigative reporting found that over the past 11 years the number of patients treated by VA is up 29 percent while prescriptions written by VA doctors and nurse practitioners are up 259 percent. Additionally, VA prescriptions for opiates hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine have risen 270 percent in the last 12 years. These media reports assert that the rapid rise in VA prescriptions corresponds with data that indicates VA patients are dying of narcotics overdoses at twice the national average.

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