The VA’s Opioid Policy Hurts Veterans Like Me

(Editor’s note: In 2015, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law legislation that requires the Veterans Administration to adopt the CDC’s “voluntary” opioid guidelines, which discourage the prescribing of opioids for chronic pain. Over the past year, the VA has implemented the guidelines throughout its healthcare system, which provides medical services to 6 million veterans -- over half of whom suffer from chronic pain. One of them is Ron Pence.)

By Ron Pence, Guest Columnist

I am a Vietnam veteran who turned to the VA health system in 2001, when I started having pain from polymyositis and chronic arthritis, the worst kind of arthritis caused by autoimmune disease. My own body was attacking my joints and muscles. They said CPK enzyme levels in my blood were very high and in danger of shutting down my kidneys.

Back then the VA cared about vets. I was started on pain meds and they moved me up the ladder as the pain increased.

The head of rheumatology started me on morphine because he said it was the only drug he had to offer. He was right. After 3 pain management visits, 3 more doctors agreed I was on the correct needed dose. X rays of the arthritis in my back ruled out chiropractic care.

I was on the same dose of morphine for 9 years. It worked well enough for me to function and to live alone. The VA promised to continue my opiate therapy as long as I did not break their rules.

After 5 years or so they came out with a new contract and forced us to sign it. I was told either sign it or you don’t gets your meds. I was never accused of breaking their rules and never have. I pointed out the new contract was totally in favor of the VA doing as they please and was signed under duress.



Now out of the clear blue they cut my dose in half over two months and they may cut it completely because I refuse to take terrible and dangerous psychiatric drugs with the worst side effects. Just search the Internet for “Cymbalta side effects” and you’ll see what I mean.

The VA is really pushing these drugs that I would not give to a dog. They are a lobotomy in a pill. I WILL DIE BEFORE TAKING THEM. They take away your ability to think, speak and make decisions; and come with side effects such as permanent blindness, kidney stones and suicide, even in non-depressed people with no mental problems. Even trying to get off this drug under a doctor's care can end in death for some people. Besides that, it’s nothing more than a sugar pill for the pain.

Why start something like that when what I was taking had no side effects for me and was working fine? I am sure the pills they are pushing will end in a lot more deaths and terrible disabilities and suffering.

My companion almost died after taking Enbril. The VA doctors write prescriptions for Enbril, Humira, etc. as if they were candy. Four shots a month cost $2,000. Far more dangerous than opiates, but someone lines their pockets and the drug companies make over $10 billion a year on them. There is more here than meets the eye.

The CDC in Atlanta says their opioid prescribing guidelines are just that, guidelines. Doctors at the VA must not be smart enough to know what a guideline is. They’re pushing very dangerous, expensive and destructive drugs to replace opioids. Pray and try to find a substitute that works. Doctors sit and lie about what the guidelines say. The stress of not knowing if you are going to be cut off completely is as bad as the pain.

Since the big cutback in my pain medication, I am far less functional. Just standing up 30 seconds to snatch my clothes out of the washer puts me in hollering pain and I fall back into my wheelchair. Cutting the meds even makes it hard to get on the toilet. I am 70 and live alone. My family brings me food to keep me from starving most of the time. I have lost over 90 pounds.

This is going to mean the nursing home for a lot of people like me and I cannot stand the thought of living or existing in a nursing home. Karma is going to get a lot of people making these bad decisions.

I don’t take complaints to Washington because I am old and an 8 mile trip to Walmart wipes me out for a couple of days. This is a fight for the younger guys.

We are in one of the most advanced countries in the world medically, yet the doctors and politicians will not use that knowledge to ease pain and suffering. We have to find a solution.

Ron Pence lives in Florida. Ron enlisted in the Air Force in 1963 – at the age of 17 -- and served his country for 6 years.

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The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.