Report: Muskogee VA Prescribes More Painkillers Than Any Other VA Center

Friday, November 1st 2013, 5:13 pm
By: Craig Day

An Oklahoma Watch investigative report, produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting, shows a high number of veterans are being prescribed painkillers at VA centers, especially Oklahoma veterans.

The Center sorted through more than a decade of data, and found the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee prescribes the highest number of prescription painkillers of any VA center in the nation.

"Some of these drugs can destroy their life," said veteran Alan Barecca.

Barecca, who served in the Army from 1965 to '67, said the biggest worry for many is the drugs could become addictive.

"I'm very concerned about drugs of all kinds and especially when you're talking about opiates and things like that, that could be addictive," Barecca said.

11/1/2013 Related Story: Analysis: Muskogee VA System Is No. 1 Issuer of Opiate Prescriptions

The Center for Investigative Reporting found prescriptions of four opiates - hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and morphine - have surged 270 percent in the past 12 years.

And no VA nationwide has prescribed more opiates per patient since 9/11, than the VA in Muskogee.

"Sometimes, they're in a lot of pain, so I don't know what you do for these people," Barecca said.

The VA center in Muskogee averaged 1.6 opiate prescriptions per patient over the past decade.

But Barecca said, while he would like to see more alternatives for treatment of returning veterans other than drugs, any criticism of the facility is unwarranted.

"Virtually every veteran that is coming back has some physical or mental problem that the average person on the street is not having, so it's unfair to single them out," Barecca said.

In the investigative report, VA officials say there are multiple ongoing efforts to address drug abuse among veterans seen in their health care system, including treating root causes of pain rather than narcotics to reduce symptoms.

Barecca said its a good move.

"They relieve symptoms, but they don't really affect cures," Barecca said.

The VA center in Muskogee says the number of people getting prescribed opiates has dropped in the past year. They also offer alternative pain treatments, and veterans being treated with the drugs for pain management are provided more frequent appointments, care management, and education on alternative therapies.