The Veterans Health Administration has stepped up efforts to fight drug overdose deaths and prescription painkiller addiction.
Veterans are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than others, and opioid painkillers have been a mainstay of treatment.
But VA systems around the country have new marching orders to reduce the number of prescriptions, lower the doses, and track prescriptions more closely. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Kristin Gourlay spoke with the Providence VA’s chief of primary care, Dr. Paul Pirraglia, to learn more about how the fledgling plan is working here.Chief of Primary Care for the Providence VA, Dr. Paul Pirraglia, joins RIPR's Kristin Gourlay to talk about new efforts to curb opioid addiction and overdose deaths.
Pirraglia mentions several initiatives in the early stages at the VA:
- Prescription tracking and flagging: a new system will alert prescribers if patients are filling prescriptions too much or too soon, as well as whenever they're prescribed additional medications that could interact dangerously with an opioid, such as benzodiazepines (like Xanax). The Providence VA also participates in Rhode Island's prescription drug monitoring database, which has recently linked to Connecticut's system, to monitor prescriptions filled outside the VA, as necessary.
- Urine screening is being recommended for all patients on high doses of opioids, to ensure patients are avoiding other harmful substances. Pirraglia says nearly 75 percent of all patients on high-dose opioids are undergoing urine screens at least every six months, some weekly.
- A team of doctors, pharmacists, and mental health professionals is reviewing records of patients on the highest doses of opioids, and working with doctors to change prescribing habits or identify patients at risk. It's a practice known as "academic detailing."
- The Providence VA has received a new shipment of Narcan kits. Narcan is an overdose antidote. And the new kits feature a recorded voice that walks a user through the instructions. Pirraglia says they're working toward distributing kits to every patient taking prescription painkillers.