Monday, May 01, 2017

After 270% surge in painkiller prescriptions to veterans, focus redirected to therapy, exercise

Use of prescription painkillers among veterans increased 270 percent from 2001 to 2012, Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd report for West Virginia Public Broadcasting as part of a series on opioids in Appalachia. About 24 percent of all veterans live in rural areas.

In West Virginia, which leads the nation in opioid use, VA clinics were known for prescribing painkillers for chronic pain, reports WVPB. For example, one-fourth of all veterans who visited the VA in Beckley in southern West Virginia in 2012 was prescribed opioid painkillers, well above the national average. (WVPB graphic: VA center opioid rates in West Virginia)
Since 2012 the number of opioids prescribed at VAs have decreased in West Virginia and the U.S., reports WVPB. "For the past three years, the VA has begun implementing new pain management recommendations for treating veterans who have chronic pain. In 2013 the VA released a new set of guidelines called The Opioid Safety Initiative, which concluded that opioids are not the best treatment for most types of chronic pain. Instead, VA doctors are encouraged to prescribe alternative therapies, like yoga, physical therapy and chiropractic care."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year released similar guidelines that ask doctors to encourage patients to try physical therapy, yoga, chiropractic or exercise therapy before they are prescribed painkillers, Lilly and Todd write in another story in the series. That's because a CDC study found "that one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in primary care settings struggle with opioid use disorder."

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