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VA facilities working to reduce opioid use among vets


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (OSBORNE)   --  Veterans Administration hospitals in Middle Tennessee say they’ve reduced the number of opioid pain medication prescriptions they write by 38 percent in the past five years.

The VA says it’s the only health-care system in the country publically disclosing opioid prescribing rates. The agency says it’s part of a wider effort to be more transparent about veteran care.

Jennifer Bean is a VA Clinical Pharmacy Specialist. She says VA doctors are getting creative at helping veterans reduce chronic pain. Solutions can be as complex as nerve blocks and surgery, or as simple as Tylenol and Ibuprofen.  

“Other things that you see that are becoming more and more popular and effective – and literature shows to be effective – include psychotherapy and biofeedback and we’re fortunate to have pain psychologists on staff here at Tennessee Valley.”

The mid-state VA’s opioid use reduction, while impressive, is less than the system-wide average and the smallest decrease among VA facilities in Tennessee.

Specialist Bean says that’s due in part to the fact that the Middle Tennessee VA chose to concentrate first on the most difficult patient cases.

“Tennessee Valley has tried really hard to focus on those high-risk patient populations to reduce the ones that are at the highest risk of opioid overdose.”

In a press release announcing the initiative, U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs David Shulkin points out that veterans tend to suffer from “high rates of chronic pain” and opioids will continue to be prescribed where “necessary medically.”