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VA continues efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions

The Amarillo VA Health Care System is trying to combat the epidemic of opioid-related medication overdoses by decreasing the prescription of opioids.
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 5:47 PM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - The Amarillo VA Health Care System is trying to combat the epidemic of opioid-related medication overdoses by decreasing the prescription of opioids and offering alternative treatment methods.

Research continues to show prescribed opioid-related medication overdoses have increased in the last decade, with overdose being the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.

Ginger Carthel, an Amarillo VA primary care nurse practitioner, said there are safer, more effective ways to treat long-term chronic pain.

“Evidence is clearly showing that opioids are not the best solution for long-term chronic pain in general,” Carthel said.

Last week, the VA held a telephone town hall with thousands of Texas Panhandle veterans to talk about this effort. Carthel said educating about the topic is an important part of combating opioid dependence and overdoses.

“We also then try to encourage the right modalities — whether it be acupuncture or physical therapy — to build the support of muscles,” Carthel said. “Learning about our pain process and the way we respond, and then if needed, [we prescribe] appropriate medications that help address that specific cause of pain.”

Pain Management, Opioid Safety, and PDMP Coordinator Katherine Casias echoed Carthel’s reasoning.

“If someone is injured, and their injury is a sprained ankle, instead of going straight to an opioid, we would try to talk with them about something like ibuprofen or acetaminophen: something that actually works more on the source of the pain versus the covering up of the pain, which is what opioids typically do,” Casias said.

Adding that talking with patients about their treatment options to avoid opioids, Casias said the more avenues they can open up, such as physical therapy, is important.

Veterans suffer from higher rates of severe and chronic pain than the general population, and between 2010 and 2016 the rate of overdose deaths from all opioids among veterans’ increased 65 percent.

In 2018, more than 550,000 veterans reported opioid misuse in the last year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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