Congress: Are Prescription Drugs Killing Our Veterans?

Hearing Set for October 10 to Investigate VA. 

Drugs prescribed by doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) intended to help our Veterans are harming too many of them and even killing them, according to a shocking news investigation by Aaron Glantz with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR).

Now Congress wants answers, with a hearing scheduled for today to investigate VA.

Glantz writes that since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the agency charged with helping Veterans recover from war instead masks their pain with powerful and dangerous medications, feeding addictions and contributing to a fatal overdose rate among VA patients that is nearly double the national average.

Prescriptions for four opiates – hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine – surged by 270 percent in the past 12 years, according to data CIR obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. CIR’s analysis shows how this increase far outpaced the growth in VA patients.

Congress Investigates

In response to the news coverage, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled “Between Peril and Promise: Facing the Dangers of VA’s Skyrocketing Use of Prescription Painkillers to Treat Veterans,” starting at 11:00 a.m. today.  The hearing can be viewed via livestreaming.

CIR, CBS, and PBS Reporting

Over the past decade the number of patients treated by VA is up 29 percent while narcotics 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.

The rapid rise in VA prescriptions corresponds with data that indicates VA patients are dying of narcotics overdoses at twice the national average. According to a November 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office VA and DoD do not effectively manage the medication needs of all service members during their transition from active duty to Veteran status.

Huffington Post Profiles Veteran

The Huffington Post recently chronicled the life of Iraq War Army Veteran and suicide survivor Boone Cutler.  He said he was given a “combat cocktail” at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland while being treated for traumatic brain injury (TBI) after a mortar attack in Sadr City, Iraq, in 2005.

“I’ll tell you, at one point in time I was on every drug that killed Anna Nicole Smith, plus some,” Cutler told Huffington Post.

Today Cutler is off the cocktail of drugs he was given at Walter Reed and is 100 percent disabled with 70 percent attributed to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After his book Voodoo in Sadr City was published in 2010 he started hearing from his fellow Veterans.

“They started asking me my story and other war fighters started telling me their story. ‘It’s like you’re speaking for me,'” Cutler told Huffington Post. “I now had a real mission in life, and that’s what saved my life, and continues to save my life every day.”

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