Tester Urges VA Montana to Better Protect Veterans from Opioid Abuse

Senator presses VA Montana to follow opioid prescription guidelines and ensure non-opioid options are available for pain management

Continuing his efforts to combat the opioid crisis in Montana, U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is calling on the Montana Veterans Affairs Health Care System (VA Montana) to ensure it is providing essential oversight of opioid prescribing practices and that Montana veterans have appropriate and adequate pain management support, including non-opioid options.

“When veterans come to my office for help, they relay the difficulty in learning about what nonpharmacological pain management options are available to them at VA and in the community and how to access these modalities,” Tester wrote in a letter to VA Montana Interim Executive Director Duane Gill. “Pain, especially severe and chronic pain, has a significant impact on veterans’ overall health and can directly and catastrophically impact their mental health if not addressed effectively and properly.”

The Senator requested additional information on the pain management options available to Montana veterans, including behavioral therapy and complementary and integrative health programs and services, and on how VA Montana is ensuring its providers are adhering to VA’s Opioid Safety Initiative. VA’s Opioid Safety Initiative provides thorough and clear evidence-based guidelines for providers when prescribing opioids.

Tester also pressed VA Montana to address his concerns with VA’s oversight of non-VA providers who prescribe opioids to veterans. Currently, VA requires its in-house providers and community partners to check state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to mitigate prescription drug abuse and overdose by veterans utilizing community care.

The Senator continued, “I am particularly concerned with providers participating in the Veterans Community Care Network not querying state PDMPs before prescribing opioids to veterans, creating life-threatening patient safety concerns. I have often said that VA can outsource the work but it cannot outsource the responsibility of the quality of care veterans receive in the community. It would be helpful to better understand how VA Montana ensures veterans being prescribed opioids in the community are safe.”

A staunch advocate of ensuring VA maintains necessary oversight of opioid prescription, Tester led a group of his colleagues in a letter in last December demanding VA take swift action to protect veterans seeking opioid prescriptions following concerning reports that found some providers of veterans’ health care were not meeting VA prescription opioids safety standards. These reports from VA’s Office of Inspector General found lapses in oversight that resulted in veterans being overprescribed opioids from both VA and Community Care Network providers—increasing veterans’ risk of sedation and overdose.

Read the Senator’s full letter HERE.


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