The Department of Veterans Affairs recently released the opioid prescribing rates at all of its medical centers across the country in an effort to both educate the public and bring a new level of transparency to the federal agency.
This release comes at a time when the United States is facing an epidemic of opioid usage, resulting in 116 deaths per day due to opioid overdose in 2016. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 11.5 million people misused opioid in 2016, with a total of 42,249 opioid-related deaths.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, and morphine, as well as fentanyl and heroin. And while many prescriptions for the drugs are for valid medical conditions, misuse and overuse of the drugs remains rampant in the United States.
The VA has been actively working to reduce the practice of prescribing opioids when possible. The latest data just released from the VA shows an overall drop of 41 percent between 2012 and 2017 across the agency, with 99 percent of VA medical centers reducing their prescribing rates.
“Many Veterans enrolled in the VA health-care system suffer from high rates of chronic pain and the prescribing of opioids may be necessary medically,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin. “And while VA offers other pain-management options to reduce the need for opioids, it is important that we are transparent on how we prescribe opioids, so veterans and the public can see what we are doing in our facilities and the progress we have made over time.”
When the initiative to reduce opioid prescriptions at the VA was first put into place in 2012, it was found that nearly a third of all veterans taking opioids were chronic users.
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The data, newly released by the Department of Veterans Affairs, lists each VA medical center, the opioid prescribing rate in 2012, the prescribing rate in 2017, and the percentage change in that time. Some centers saw a drop as low as 2 percent (like Coatesville VA Medical Center in Pennsylvania, where the prescribing rate was already low), while others like Fayetteville, North Carolina and El Paso, Texas decreased their prescription rates by more than 60 percent in that timeframe.
Only at the Manila VA Clinic in the Phillipines did the rate increase. There, the VA medical center saw a 20 percent increase in opioid prescriptions from 2012 to 2017.
Read which VA medical centers had the highest and lowest opioid prescribing rates on the next page!
Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.