Former fellow Aaron Glantz (2008-2009) has recently published a series of articles exposing the massive rate of opiate prescriptions to US war veterans through the VA system. As a Veteran Reporter for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Glantz broke the initial story on September 28, reporting data that show a 270 percent increase in opiate prescriptions to veterans over the past 12 years. Additional research shows that opiates are being prescribed especially to veterans suffering from depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disoder, or PTSD, despite the fact that general medical practice advises doctors not to prescribe these patient populations with opiates as it puts them at an increased risk for overdoes and suicide. Glantz reports that the VA also knows about this problem and the massive amount of addiction among veterans, yet has failed to fully or evenly institute reforms. The rate of prescription varies widely across VA hospitals in the country, with one VA Medical hospital in Oklahoma prescribing an average of 1.6 prescriptions per patient over the past ten years.
On October 10, Glantz published another article following the House Subcommittee investigation into the rates of pain prescriptions, which has been the first time the VA administration has spoken publicly about this issue since Aaron first reported on it. Physicians reported being pressured into prescribing medications against their medical judgment, though Glantz reports that the VA’s principal deputy undersecretary for health denies a wide spread pattern of coercion. CIR’s recent coverage of VA opiate use has received rewards from the Military Reporters and Editors Association and Online News Association.
Click here to read the original story, “VA’s opiate overload feeds veterans’ addictions, overdose deaths.”
Read the follow up story about the House subcommittee hearings, “VA doctors tell House lawmakers of pressure to prescribe veterans opiates.”
Aaron and his colleagues have also created an interactive map to show the increase in opiate prescriptions across the country, which can be found here.