Local veteran says nationwide push against opioids is hurting some of those who served

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OKLAHOMA CITY - For 20 years, Don White bravely served our country and put himself in harm's way.

"There's two Purple Hearts," White said, showing his accolades. "I could have had three but I didn't want to argue about it. There's the Bronze Star, Silver Star, Combat Infantry Badges on my hat."

While a lot of pride comes from his time in the military, there has also been considerable pain.

"My right leg was shot almost off on March 12, 1969," White recalled. "My ring finger had been shot completely off. They managed to sew it back on. I've been hit in the face a couple of times, friendly fire."

Since leaving the service, White has worked as a realtor and written two books about his time in Vietnam.

He says with old injuries and a degenerating spine, the pain has always been a part of his life. However, things took a turn when he fell and broke several ribs in February.

The veteran, who is in his 80s, says he went to OU Medical Center for treatment and was sent home with some opioid pain medication.

When the pills ran out, he says the pain returned. He says he asked the VA for something to help with the pain, and he was given something that didn't seem to make a dent in the suffering.

"You turn the TV on, you see how wonderful the veterans are," White said. "Well, the veterans need something for pain."

He says he believes a nationwide initiative to slow the prescription of opioids is affecting those who really need them.

News 4 reached out to the VA for a comment. We were told that White's allegations are "not entirely accurate and missing key context," adding that "publishing them would be irresponsible."

"I don't care what you publish," White said. "I just told you the truth. They can't stand the truth, well there it is."

White says he doesn't blame the local VA. In fact, he says his doctor at the clinic is one of the best he's had.

Instead, he blames the national push to slow the prescriptions, saying while he'd never want a young person to die from misusing the drug, many elderly veterans need them.

"Those people have got to be able to stop some pain and Excedrin won't get it done," he said.

The Oklahoma City VA Health Care System declined to go on-camera but provided News 4 with this statement:

"Patient privacy laws prevent us from commenting on the care of individual Veterans, but please note that these allegations are not entirely accurate and are missing key context. Publishing them would be irresponsible. Our country’s opioid epidemic is a public health emergency and this national crisis demands a holistic approach.

VA is recognized by many as a leader in the pain management field for the responsible use of opioids, and the department is sharing its knowledge and experience with federal and local governments and across the nation’s health-care networks.  In 2017, VA released its top eight best practices for reducing opioid use. These best practices are invaluable tools for others working to balance pain management and opioid prescription rates.

In 2018, VA became the first hospital system in the country to publicly post its opioid dispensing rates.

Because some Veterans enrolled in the VA health care system suffer from high rates of chronic pain, VA initiated a multi-faceted approach called the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) to make the totality of opioid use among America’s Veterans using VA health care visible at all levels in the organization. From January 2017 through December 2018, the program has resulted in 117,981 fewer Veteran patients – a 26 percent reduction – receiving opioids

We expect even better management of pain medications for Veterans when VA and the Department of Defense roll out new, integrated electronic health records. The new records will give health care providers a full picture of patient medical history, enabling better treatment and better clinical outcomes. It will also help us better identify Veterans at higher risk for opioid addiction and suicide, so health care providers can intervene earlier and save lives."

 

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