Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Investigation: Veterans dying from overmedication

A coroner's report determined Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Scott McDonald had been "overmedicated" and that he died from the combined effects of five of his medications. / CBS News
A coroner’s report determined Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Scott McDonald had been “overmedicated” and that he died from the combined effects of five of his medications.
/ CBS News

Veterans by the tens of thousands have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan with injuries suffered on the battlefield. Many of them seek treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Now a CBS News investigation has found that some veterans are dying of accidental overdoses of narcotic painkillers at a much higher rate than the general population  and some VA doctors are speaking out. Five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan left 35-year-old Army Spc. Scott McDonald with chronic back pain.

His wife Heather said over the course of a year, VA doctors in Columbus, Ohio prescribed him eight pain and psychiatric medications.

“It just got out of control,” said Heather. “They just started pill after pill, prescription after prescription…and he’d come home with all brand-new medications, higher milligrams.”

Then a VA doctor added a ninth pill — a narcotic called Percocet. Later that evening, Heather came home from work and found Scott disoriented on the couch.

And I asked him,” Heather recalled, “‘You didn’t by chance by accident take too many pills, did you?’ And he’s like, ‘No, no. I did what they told me to take, Heather.’ I popped a pillow under his head and that’s how I found him the next morning, exactly like that.”

McDonald wasn’t breathing. The coroner’s report ruled his death accidental. He had been “overmedicated” and that he died from the combined effects of five of his medications.

“There’s an overuse of narcotics,” Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, a physician at the VA medical center in Jackson, Mississippi. “It’s the first reflex for pain.”

Hollenbeck raised her concerns with the federal government about the VA’s practice about prescribing narcotics.

“The people in charge said, ‘We want you to sign off on narcotic prescriptions on patients you don’t see,'” she said. “I was absolutely stunned. And I knew immediately it was illegal. It works on the surface. It keeps the veterans happy.They don’t complain. They’re not coming in as often if they have their pain medicine. And the people in charge don’t care if it’s done right.”

CBS News obtained VA data through a records request which show the number of prescriptions written by VA doctors and nurse practitioners during the past 11 years. The number of patients treated by VA is up 29 percent, but narcotics prescriptions are up 259 percent.

A dozen VA physicians who’ve worked at 15 VA medical centers told us they’ve felt pressured by administrators to prescribe narcotics and that patients are not being properly monitored.

We gathered data from five of the states with the most veterans. We found they are dying of accidental narcotic overdoses at a 33 percent higher rate than non-veterans.

Read more [http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001pDjRoAKlG_rqO9QThZZXzpT3lPHmFT4RADTeKbZHBq5CZe88IQwd2tDItdZJuOGwBZM80pqCXtuabf2f4FBa8ZEBo9jJT3gIBQIdBsQGHCdGpps-xDrKmqbO1ZM9JxBcmQwIuj_A3_y4rDbit-TEoyxHjNz8baCra_evI5cy39QqNU6lPT4j6NPCYRMenxezracT2WfyYBE=]

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