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Opioid Alternatives, Technology Help Vets Manage Pain

April 14, 2020

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has reduced the number of opioid prescriptions written for veterans by 56% over the past eight years. Moving forward, a combination of technology and alternatives to opioids will be critical to helping veterans manage their chronic pain, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in an address that aired during the opening plenary of the virtual Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit on Tuesday.

With an assist from states’ prescription drug monitoring programs, the VA has reduced the number of opioid prescriptions written for veterans from 680,000 in 2012 to 300,000 in the past year, Wilkie said.

“But it’s so much more than tracking prescriptions and limiting pills,” Wilkie said. “The progress we’ve made—and that we continue to make—comes from a recognition that veterans were taking opioids for a reason, and that is to mitigate pain. That means finding new ways to manage pain, and we’ve found plenty of options.”

Among those alternatives are yoga, tai chi, chiropractic services, music, art and aqua therapy, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy and combinations of non-addictive medications that have shown comparable effectiveness to opioids.

Wilkie acknowledged that current social distancing directives have added a degree of challenge for the VA to connect with veterans and provide care, and “none of these answers help if we’re not actually delivering those services,” but telehealth platforms are helping the department to clear that hurdle and have been gaining steam even before the emergence of COVID-19 in the U.S. Last year, 900,000 veterans completed 2.6 million virtual appointments, Wilkie said.

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