It has become a well-known fact that there is an opioid epidemic in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control, overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999. Every day, over 1000 Americans are in Emergency Rooms for prescription opioid misuse. And drug overdose, almost half involving opiate prescription medications, is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
For military veterans, the numbers are worse. Many veterans are prescribed opiate painkillers to deal with both physical pain and PTSD. According to a brief from the Department of Veteran Affairs, veterans seen by VA doctors in 2011 were dying from prescription drug overdose at twice the national average.
In 2013 the Center for Investigative Research filed a FOIA request with the VA asking about opiate prescription numbers. The findings were astonishing. From 2001-2012, the prescription rates for opiates increased over 270%. This is despite efforts within the VA to update policy to address the epidemic.
A recent news article has questioned the efficacy of that policy. Benjamin Krause of DisabledVeterans.org states that the Tomah, Wisconsin, VA Medical Center has quadrupled their number of opiate prescriptions, even as veteran numbers have dwindled. That investigation is ongoing.
In December of 2015 the VA adopted new guidelines for their distribution of opiate prescriptions. These include the controversial opioid prescribing guidelines from the CDC. Part of that new policy requires VA patients to see a physician every 30 days to get a refill of their pain medications. However, many patients are unable to get an appointment within that 30 day window.
At this time there are no future policy changes or proposed legislation being discussed within the VA.