Is a plan to rollback opioids for veterans best for their health? | 11 Listens
As the opioid epidemic continues to plague our country, many are taking steps to mitigate its deadly effects.
The VA is one of the organizations working to limit the number of opioids it prescribes with the Opioid Safety Initiative.
11 Listens, as one Central Arkansas vet says the problem isn't working and instead is putting his and other veterans’ lives at-risk.
In 2015, 12.5 million Americans misused prescription opioids. We bring you stories about the struggles of the epidemic nearly every week. But for others, they rely on opioids to save them from a life of pain.
Winnie Wright witnessed true fear Tuesday: the fear that a veteran couldn't continue to live if they were forced to go without opioid pain medication.
"We just want what we deserve: fair treatment,” he said to a fellow veteran.
Wright met Harry Tickell inside what he called a "veteran hangout" in Dyer Township after he called our 11 Listens Hotline with a major concern about the VA in Little Rock.
"They told me there's no way they'll give you any more pain medication. They're going to ween people off of it. But there's a lot of people they just took plum off the meds. And I'm one of them,” he said.
A veteran of the Navy, Tickell told me he's been taking Oxycodone for 38 years and has had 24 surgeries since his service. Eleven of them for his back.
"I've got Agent Orange. I've got pulmonary hypertension. I've got COPD. I've got sugar diabetes too now. I've got bolus. And I'm not supposed to be in pain,” Tickell explained he was taking Oxycodone four times a day, just to feel well enough to get around.
"They called me and they said, 'Mr. Tickell, this is the last time you will get medication from the VA because we are cutting everybody out.' I said, 'how can you cut everybody out?' I said, 'they're going to die. You're going to have a lot of people die. Because they need this medication to live on. Not because they want it,’” he said.
One of his primary concerns is, without access to pain medication, or a way to taper off, more veterans will end up on the streets.
"There's a way to get other people off of meds, but you can't go cold turkey.' They told me, 'we figured out the only way to take care of the problem, is just not give out meds,” he continued.
"In light of the opioid crisis, it's a responsibility the VA takes very seriously, to examine all the patients who are on opioids and decide whether or not to continue those opioids,” said DeElla Ray, CAVHS Acting Deputy Chief of Staff. Explaining the Opioid Safety Initiative is a nationwide effort to reduce the need for the use of opioids among America's veterans. "I'm not privy to that patient's specific information, but I can tell you, if that sort of thing is happening to the veterans, they should bring that to their primary care provider and talk about what other modalities might be available to them."
Mr. Tickell says he talked to his VA provider. They suggested he get a new and private primary care physician to get the prescription. He accuses the VA of passing the buck.
"If you don't get this medication two, tow and a half , three weeks, what will happen to you,” Wright asked.
"In three weeks I will be dead. Once it runs out, two days later I'm dead. I'd have to take the gun to me. Because I couldn't stand the pain,” he said.
The VA has assured me they will reach out to Mr. Tickell and help him sort this out.
They suggest any veteran with concerns about their treatment at the VA call the hospital for a second opinion.