VA opioid policy impacts patients, doctors and pharmacists

RENO, Nev (KOLO) Controlled substances at the Reno VA are not just kept under lock and key; they are stored and dispensed in a caged room.

The hospital acknowledges the drugs may be needed for chronic pain. But in 2012, veterans' facilities across the country started participating in the Opioid Safety Initiative, looking at prescribing rates to raise awareness and mitigate the dangers of over-prescribing opioids.

“The main focus is safety, to make sure that people are taking what is prescribed. And they aren’t taking things that are a dangerous interaction. The newest research is that treatment of chronic pain with opioids, long-term, has less benefit of controlling pain, and has a higher incidence of side effects and safety concerns,” says Dr. Amy Sanguinetti, VA Deputy Chief of Staff.

That's when alternatives to these drugs may be suggested and pursued. Physical therapy, chiropractic, yoga, acupuncture and counseling can all be a part of the new treatment plan.

“Other times there is medication treatment strategies. If someone does have a physical craving or physical addiction to an opioid then they can use something like Buprenophine that's the generic, it's also called Suboxone or Subutex,” says Amy Pullen, a clinical pharmacist with the VA Hospital.

Over a five-year period, 99% of the facilities in the VA decreased their opioid prescribing rates.

At the Reno facility, prescribing opioids has gone down by 43%.

Veterans may be upset or apprehensive about these changes and what might happen should they undergo surgery or cancer treatment.

Dr. Sanguinetti says while there are guidelines and more awareness concerning opioid prescriptions and dispensing, each veteran will be considered on a case-by-case basis.