DEA agents continue to inspect Marion VA hospital
MARION, Ind. (Dec. 1, 2015)- For the second consecutive day, federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents were on site at the VA hospital in Marion. The inspection is looking into the high number of powerful narcotics and opiates purchased by the hospital in recent years.
The Marion VA is the largest purchaser of highly addictive pain medications for any facility in the northern district of Indiana, according to court documents.
Several veterans who are patients at the Marion VA facility that CBS4 spoke with said they were injured while defending America overseas. Now, they are back home in Indiana and dealing with a whole new set of problems.
“It turned into a dependency and it became an addiction,”said Elijah Shreve, a patient at the VA in Marion.
Shreve was seriously wounded while serving a tour in Iraq.
“I sustained multiple injuries to my gut and to my spine,” said Shreve.
He says an improvised explosive devise almost took his life. When Shreve returned home, he utilized the VA in Marion for the medical help he needed.
He claims that he was prescribed powerful and addictive pain medications for his injuries. Oxycodone, percocet, fentanyl and vicodin were some of the prescriptions Shreve said he was taking.
“I believe that my dependency started with the VA. It developed because I didn’t realize how big the doses were and how frequently I was taking them,” said Shreve.
Federal agents are trying to determine why the hospital is the leading purchaser of opiates and other narcotics for the northern district of Indiana.
“To my knowledge it’s a regulatory inspection and the VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System is cooperating fully with their inspection,” said Christopher Menzie, acting public affairs officer for the VA Northern Indiana HealthCare System.
The pills in question are the same types of pills that are often sold on the streets illegally and have high rates of drug abuse across the country. In 2014 the VA in Marion was the largest purchaser of hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, methadone and morphine.
According to court documents, the hospital bought 832,310 tablets of hydrocodone in 2014. The VA in Fort Wayne was ranked second, purchasing 441,700.
Through just the first three quarters of 2015, the amount of hydrocodone purchased by the VA has increased to more than one million pills.
Marvin Tucker is a patient of the Marion VA location. He says that he was injured while serving in the 1970s.
“I’m on hydrocodone, I’ve been on hydrocodone for a while but I’m not an abuser of it. A lot of vets need these medications,” said Tucker.
The findings have Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) taking a closer look. She also sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
“I think it’s an alarming report as a member of the VA committee and for the sake of Hoosier veterans all over our state and certainly in our district. We are doing our own investigation as well,” said Rep. Walorski.
Rep. Walorski acknowledges cases of over prescribing at VA locations around the country and at some facilities in Indiana.
“If there is an issue going on (at the Marion VA) we will get to the bottom of it. More than anything else we are going to make sure our veterans get everything they deserve” said Walorski.
According to the DEA, the Marion VA has never been inspected.
Since VA hospitals are federally operated, they are not required to report its prescribing practices to the statewide database used in Indiana to hold physicians accountable.
However, VA officials utilize “INSPECT” to ensure patients aren’t getting medications from multiple doctors–a practice known as ‘doctor shopping.’
The DEA will continue its inspection for the remainder of the week.