SACRAMENTO, CA - A study by the Center for Investigative Research claims prescriptions for powerfully addictive opioids like hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine at Veterans Administration hospitals have jumped 270 percent in the last 12 years.
The report, based on data obtained with the Freedom of Information Act, said the rates of prescripton vary widely from hospital to hospital.
At the Sacramento VA Medical Center in Rancho Cordova, doctors said they are well aware of the problem and working aggressively to curb opioid abuse.
"It's only in the last two or three years that we've noticed that there's been a real problem with that," Sacramento VA Medical Center Pain Clinic Director Dr. Barth Wilsey said.
The study by the Center for Investigative Reporting shows the Sacramento VA Medical Center among the highest for prescriptions of opioids since 2001.
Dr. Philip Eulie, the Assoiciate Chief of Staff for the Northern California VA said the hospital has seen a dramatic shift in the prescription and treatment of vets dealing with chronic pain issues.
"We have a long discussion with patients before they take chronic opioids for non-cancer pain so that they understand exactly what they're going to be doing, exactly what they're getting involved in," Eulie said.
The hospital emphasizes a multi-disciplinary approach to pain management
"We use physical therapy, we use acupuncture. We use injections into the spine," Wilsey said, adding that vets are also carefully screened for issues involving mental illness that can complicate care.
Patients at highest risk are now monitored continuously, their urine tested for drug levels and types.
"These patients get seen every week. They have to be in a substance abuse treatment program," Eulie said.
Wilsey recently took a course in acupuncture at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.
"And we were taught new methods of using accupuncture to treat traumatic brain injury in veterans as well as chronic pain," Wilsey said.
High-risk patients are required to go through a special program.
"These patients get seen every week. They have to be in a substance abuse treatment program," Eulie explained.
Eulie believes the VA is now on the leading edge of treatment for chronic pain.
"Yes, it's a big problem, and that's why we've done a lot to try to manage these patients as safely as possible," Eulie said.