VA doctors cut off pain meds without warning, says veteran

MARION, Ind.-- New complaints are surfacing concerning the Marion VA Hospital.

Last year, a CBS4 investigation revealed the location was purchasing more opioids than any other facility in the northern district.

The news led to Congress passing a new law to crack down on dangerous prescribing habits at VA hospitals across the country.

A veteran who’s a patient at the Marion facility says he supports efforts to fight the country’s opioid epidemic, but he says Marion VA doctors have gone to the other extreme, cutting off patients like himself who really do need certain narcotics to enjoy a certain quality of life.

“The way that these veterans are being treated, we’re being treated like criminals, like drug addicts or drug seekers,” said the former Marine.

According to a VA doctor’s own notes in the veteran’s chart, the risks of opioid therapy include withdrawal if “a patient suddenly stops taking opioids.”

But that’s what the former Marine, discharged because of a back injury, says he was forced to do when his prescription was abruptly cut off without any advance warning or explanation.

“There’s medications that I use that I do depend on in order to try to go grocery shopping or take my kids trick-or-treating,” said the veteran.

Over the past six weeks, he’s talked to official after official. He recently learned a “drug seeking flag” was placed on his chart. But he says that doesn’t line up with months of tests showing responsible opioid use.

In fact, his chart shows one month in which he tested negative for opiate use, meaning it wasn’t in his system at all. During that time, he says he stopped using it due to fears of interaction with another drug he was taking for a separate illness.

That, he says, indicates he is someone who takes his opiate use seriously. And for that reason, he says he should’ve been given the benefit of the doubt before being cut off.

“They could’ve easily just said, we need to do a pill count,” he said. “If I would’ve refused that, they could’ve red flagged me. (00) I would not have refused that. I would’ve brought them in and said, ‘Here, do what you need to do.’ If that’s what I have to do to prove that I’m using my medication properly, that’s what I’ll do. But I wasn’t afforded that opportunity.”

FOX59 reached out to the VA to see what their protocol is for red flagging potential opioid abusers or what treatment options they make available if they do flag a patient. They did not respond by the time this story aired.

This time last year, our CBS4 investigation showed doctors at the Marion VA were handing out so many narcotics, the DEA had to get involved. The former Marine believes the VA doctors are over-correcting their former opioid problem.

“You can’t crack down on that problem without offering a solution of some other sort, but they’re not doing that,” he said.

He says he’s heard of the same scenario with other veterans at VA hospitals across the country. That’s why he’s now sharing his story, with the hopes he can help change the ending for others.

“I served my country,” he said. “I’m disabled. You need to provide the care that these veterans, myself and millions of others need, that we depend on them.”

Indiana congresswoman Jackie Walorski crafted the bill last year that forces VA hospitals nationwide to step up their reporting of opioid prescriptions in an effort to prevent similar situations.

Tonight, her office tells me the law should in no way be prompting doctors to unnecessarily flag potential opiate abusers.

They say they will take a look at making sure VA locations are striking a balance between reducing opioid addiction and properly treating our nation’s veterans.

Are you experiencing problems receiving your pain medications from the Marion VA? Email ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com with your story.

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