New rules on opioid pain meds cause grief for veterans

New rules on narcotic painkillers cause grief for veterans and VA

New federal rules that make it harder to get narcotic painkillers are taking an unexpected toll on thousands of veterans who depend on these prescription drugs to treat a wide variety of ailments, such as missing limbs and post-traumatic stress

The restrictions, adopted last summer by the Drug Enforcement Administration to curb a national epidemic of opioid abuse, are for the first time, in effect, forcing veterans to return to the doctor every month to renew their medication, although many were already struggling to get appointments at overburdened VA health facilities.

Although the tighter regulation applies to everyone on opioid painkillers, it’s hitting veterans especially hard because so many are being treated for horrific injuries sustained during the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It literally sickens me to hear how the war on drugs has now turned on the people that have already suffered so much for our country. It’s criminal to torture our returning troops by withholding effective pain relief.

Pain experts at VA say that in hindsight they have been overmedicating veterans, and doctors at the Pentagon and VA now say that the use of the painkillers contributes to family strife, homelessness and even suicide among veterans

But some veterans say they have come to depend on these painkillers to function and now, unable to get a timely renewal of the prescription, are suffering withdrawal symptoms that feel like a panic attack and the flu at the same time.

Craig Schroeder was injured in a makeshift-bomb explosion while serving as a Marine corporal in the “Triangle of Death,” a region south of Baghdad.

He has been on a steady regimen of opioids.

But after the DEA regulations were put in place, he was unable to get an appointment to see his doctor for nearly five months, he said. He stayed in bed at his home in North Carolina much of that time.

“It was a nightmare. I was just in unbearable, terrible pain,” he said. “I couldn’t even go to the ER because those doctors won’t write those scripts.”

His wife, Stephanie Schroeder, said she also noticed that VA had become hostile toward patients who asked for painkillers.

“It feels like they told us for years to take these drugs, didn’t offer us any other ideas, and now we’re suddenly demonized, second-class citizens.”

“We’re hearing from veterans with lifelong disabilities, who never had a problem with addiction issues. They have been on these drugs for decades, and then all of a sudden it was boom, a total change in attitudes,”

staff members are meeting personally with veterans. “There is the real anxiety of being in pain and losing control of that pain. We are aware of the fact that we need to pay attention to this,” he said.

DEA officials declined to comment on the specific challenges that the new rules pose for veterans.

The DEA has remained stubbornly silent when asked to comment on the real-world consequences of their policies. When cornered, they simply say “we never said you can’t prescribe opioids”, so the problem must not be with us. (see other examples: DEA denies privacy concerns for PDMPDEA should not interfere with physicians and pain patientsDEA responds after patients denied prescription pain meds)

doctors are telling patients they need to come back every month, medical staff say.

Half of all returning troops suffer chronic pain, according to a study in the June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Our hospitals are doing some really exciting things to combat chronic pain and take care of our veterans.

This bright little quote about “doing some really exciting things” shows just how out of touch these folks are with the devastation of a life by chronic pain.

In the meantime, however, veterans say they continue to bear the burden of the new restrictions on narcotic painkillers.

This is the crux of the problem: we are losing access to opioids before other means of effective treatment have been found.

A retired staff Army sergeant who served in Iraq, … takes the bus nearly two hours for “a one-minute consult” to get his medications. He has been taking them for more than nine years and has never had an addiction problem, he said.

“It’s just insulting to the veteran to assume they are abusing these drugs,” said his wife, Linda Davis, who works as his personal patient advocate. “I’m fully aware that people doctor-shop, some docs overprescribe. But I think they need to realize that there’s a real difference between addiction and dependence.”

But Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, called the new DEA rules “the single most important change that could happen.

“Unfortunately, veterans are the victims here,” Kolodny said. “The VA created this mess by aggressively jumping onto pills as the solution. But it’s not something you can just abruptly stop.”

So many people who have been pushing for these new restrictions use the word “unfortunate” when talking about the consequences. They makes it sound as though they had nothing to do with it, making it clear that they don’t believe they have any responsibility for the consequences. 

The Washington Post has created a Facebook community for veterans to share their experiences. If you’ve served, please join here:



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