Memphis VA cuts opioid prescriptions by 50%

Memphis VA cuts opioid prescriptions by 50%
Memories from Stacy's Navy days (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Memories from Stacy's Navy days (Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - With opioid addiction and overdose deaths increasing across the Mid-South, the V.A. Medical Center in Memphis is countering a trend with veterans by reducing opioid prescriptions.

"My wife calls this my second home but sometimes she thinks it's my first," Navy veteran John Stacy said.

Stacy said his love for the Memphis Tigers has helped distract him from chronic pain.

"Watching Memphis Tigers football is something that gives me joy," Stacy said.

Stacy served in the US Navy for more than a decade. He said he was medically discharged in 1991 over multiple issues, including back and shoulder injuries.

"Pain is the great equalizer, isn't it?" Stacy said.

His pain management started with morphine, then transitioned to the opioid OxyContin in 2009.

Stacy said he was taking 90 milligrams of OxyContin a day when the VA tried to cut his dosage 11 months ago, he only then realized the amount he was consuming was excessive.

"You've got to walk into that doctor and say look I'm taking too much," Stacy said. "What other things can we do?"

"What the VA started looking at five years ago is what do we need to change in terms of our management of pain, so that we are still helping veterans live a full life and helping manage their pain," said Ted Morton, clinical pharmacy specialist at Memphis VAMC.

The Department of Veterans Affairs posted a review of opioid prescribing rates from 2012 to 2017 at facilities nationwide.

In Memphis, the rate decreased nearly 50 percent.

"What that means is there are like 5,000 less veterans taking opioids, there is some other pain management strategy that's been used," Morton said.

Morton said VA providers are following new strategies that encourage mindfulness, education, and rehab as first steps to try to taper or eliminate opioid use.

"It requires a completely different way of thinking, and it's a change in mentality," Morton said. "It's something that you just can't throw a pill at this problem."

"Sometimes it's just suck it up buttercup and that's what we did, and I'm proud of where we are," Stacy said.

Stacy said withdrawal was tough, but now he's cut his opioid prescription by two-thirds; he's now down to just 30 milligrams a day.

"I'm more alert," Stacy said. "I can focus better."

He's using heat and ice and a nerve stimulator to better control his pain. He's also encouraging those in his situation to take charge.

"If you're going to take these, you've got to be responsible," Stacy said. "Find something to redirect your focus. Tiger football does that for me."

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