Turning the tide against veteran opioid abuse

Healthbeat

W-B VA Medical Center emphasizes non-opioid options

PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – A disturbing development in the ongoing opioid crisis is the number of U.S. military veterans at risk for overdose. Like other segments of the population, the emphasis is to get more veterans off addictive medication and in favor of other treatments. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller explains how.

Giving a tour of the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist Steve Gruver, Pharm.D. said “Yeah we keep all types of medications here, antibiotics. Aspirin. Yeah. Anything we dispense.”

And more sparingly in recent years at the Wilkes-Barre V.A. Medical Center, opioids for veterans to combat pain.

“Opioids are probably the best thing we have for acute pain. The problem occurs when we start to use them long term,” said Mr. Gruver.

That problem fueled overdose and other misuses among an unwitting veteran population dealing with injury-related pain from training or combat.

“The V.A. has advanced using interdisciplinary teams with providers from different specialties to help face the problem together with the veteran, to help the veteran realize there are other alternatives to these pills to help you control your pain,” said Wilkes-Barre V.A. Medical Center Chronic Pain Program Medical Director Tom Hanlon, MD.

Chief among them is what the V.A. developed called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Dr. Hanlon said, “It’s where the V.A. is a leader, I believe, in treating chronic pain.”

Wilkes-Barre V.A. Medical Center Staff Psychologist Jennifer Perry, PSY.D added, “I’m teaching them skills, you know, to help them improve their day-to-day life.”

Dr. Perry focuses on veterans’ actions and behaviors to help vets pace themselves through pain-related limitations. She said, “It’s really about teaching them a healthy balance and along with that often comes mental change, adjusting your expectations for yourself, you know, to be able to approach tasks in a different way than you’re used to.”

Wilkes-Barre V.A. Medical Center Pain Management Physical Therapist Amanda Schrimp, PT, DPT added, “I look at how their pain is affecting their day-to-day.”

Ms. Schrimp sees a lot of back, neck, shoulder and knee pain. Her job is to reintroduce movement to veterans and break their chronic pain cycle.

“A lot of people in the military will just push through and make things way worse. If you can get to them when the incident first happens you help them break out of that cycle a little bit more easily,” she said.

Back in 2013, the Veterans Health Administration launched what’s called the Opioid Safety Initiative to minimize harm and increase patient safety among veterans. Dr. Hanlon credits the program with helping turn the tide in the fight against veteran opioid abuse.

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