Veterans are twice as likely as civilians to die from an accidental painkiller overdose. These patriotic men and women are severely over-represented in the alarming number of overdose deaths that occur in the U.S. each year.
In 2016, prescription opioid overdoses took more than 42,000 American lives. To put this statistic in perspective, consider the casualty numbers for military personnel in war:
- The Pentagon reports 36,913 U.S. military deaths from the Korean War.
- According to the National Archives, there were 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties in Vietnam.
Keep in mind, these numbers represent the entire time period of each war. The 42,000 overdose deaths are from one year.
VA medical centers are working to reduce these numbers, starting with a reduction in their total number of opioid prescriptions.
The VA recently disclosed the opiate prescription rates of its centers, and the data revealed that 99 percent of VA facilities experienced a decrease in opiate prescriptions from 2012 to 2017.
One center in particular stands out. The Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center has the lowest rate of opioid prescriptions, at 3 percent. This center has reduced their total opioid prescriptions by an astounding 41 percent since 2012.
What’s their secret? They’re using new weapons. Armed with a battery of alternative treatment solutions and close monitoring programs, the center has developed a culture that doesn’t rely on opioid medications.
To effectively reduce the number of opioid prescriptions, the VA center incorporated the following solutions:
Non-Drug Treatment Options for Chronic Pain
- Spinal manipulation therapy
- Chiropractic care
Non-Opioid Treatment Options
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Antidepressant medication
- Anticonvulsant medications
- 45-minute doctor appointments to take the time to understand the patient
Healthcare Provider Education
- Best practices for prescribing opioids
- Weekly training sessions for pain management physicians
Dr. Ali Mchaourab, chief of medicine at the Cleveland medical center, explains, “There are so many things that can be done other than being on a pill – but if that pill is needed, a low dose is needed, then we make sure that other things are being added as well so that his function and quality of life can be improved.” He adds, “There’s no way you can curb this problem by cutting patients off of medication. We don’t want them to feel judged because they’re on opioids. We’re successful because we want to provide them an alternative.”
Additional Reading: Vets Offered More Access to PTSD, Addiction Therapies
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