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VA Hospitals Trying Alternative Treatments For Pain Rather than Opiates

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been devastating to our military. Our active duty and veterans who suffer from chronic pain, panic attacks, traumatic injuries and other ailments are usually prescribed prescription drugs, primarily narcotic painkillers to treat their injuries and ailments. The VA is infamous the past decade for over-prescribing painkillers to it's active duty and veterans. Accused of over-medicating soldiers returning from war, the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) has been directed by Congress to reassess how doctors prescribe dangerously addictive painkillers.

VA doctors are relying too heavily on prescription painkillers to treat returning war veterans, according to a report released in late September by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which obtained data from the administration via the Freedom of Information Act. During the past dozen years since 9/11, the prescription rate at VA for hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and morphine rose by 270 percent. There have been countless stories of veterans getting addicted to their medications and overdosing. Too many lives have been lost because of over-prescribing.

The VA is trying to change the ways of the past. They have been looking into new ways to treat pain and want to rid themselves of the reliance of prescription painkillers to treat their patients. Alternative-therapy programs are gaining popularity inside VA hospitals. Troops who have served their country in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan are tired of the big bags of pills that they have become reliant on. The new therapies are a breath of fresh air. Though many of the soldiers never would have guessed that they would be taking part in some of the alternative therapies, they are happy they are. Some of the programs include Equine therapy, Alpha stimulation, Qigong, guided imagery, Life coaching, yoga, Pilates, hypnosis, aqua therapy, botox and acupuncture.

The Richmond hospital and three other pilot programs offering these therapies are part of an effort by the Veterans Health Administration to reduce the dependence of tens of thousands on opiate painkillers. While doctors say the highly addictive drugs can help in the short term, they also can be harmful and often require another round of prescription pills to counteract side effects that can include insomnia, constipation, bone pain, anxiety and depression.

“I used to take a half a dozen painkillers a day, maybe more, and wash ’em down with scotch,” said the lieutenant colonel, who worked in intelligence and asked not to be named. “If you told me I’d be doing this sort of ‘wives’ tale’ type stuff even a few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

The scientific basis for these alternative therapies is mixed, and much of the research is preliminary. Last month, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs announced the launch of a five-year, $21.7 million initiative to study the effectiveness of alternative pain treatments. The undertaking includes 13 separate research projects.

The alternative treatments are a step in the right direction. Relying solely on prescription pills to make you heal and feel better is not a good plan and has proven to be deadly for many. It is exciting to see the government approve this change and it will be interesting to see the impact it has on the lives of our nations finest heroes.

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