Emergency Action to Obtain Methadone Treatment for Kentucky's Narcotics-addicted Veterans

To Kentucky's Delegation to the 113th Congress:

We the undersigned respectfully request an investigation into why thousands of Kentucky's Veterans are being denied methadone maintenance therapy--a cheap, safe, well-proven, time-tested, and highly effective treatment for opiate addiction, a treatment pioneered by the Department of Veterans Affairs right here in Kentucky--through the VA medical system. Methadone therapy is available to Veterans in VA Medical Centers in other States, and has been for decades. We need the immediate establishment, on an emergency basis, of methadone maintenance clinics in both of Kentucky's VA Medical Centers and all VA outpatient clinics statewide on a scale sufficient to meet current and future needs.

You are surely aware of the severity of the narcotics addiction epidemic in Kentucky, and that our Veteran population is especially hard hit, for a number of reasons. The Vietnam War produced large numbers of veterans addicted to morphine and other drugs used to ease the pain of their wounds, both physical and mental. Many more became addicted to heroin. To this day, thousands of Kentucky's Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, still need maintenance therapy for their addiction--and are still being denied that treatment, except for a chosen few receiving far more expensive drugs.

The Global War on Terror is producing a huge number of new addicts, with some reports suggesting that a few front-line combat units have experienced addiction rates as high as 85%. Not only is opium and heroin cheap and abundant in Afghanistan, but our troops often walk through enormous poppy fields while performing their duties; commanders have been prohibited from taking action to curtail production because the farmers who grow it have no other source of income. Maddeningly, American troops have on occasion been forced to defend the opium-growing regions of the country from the Taliban, who destroy the crop whenever possible!

Ironically, the low number of combat fatalities, thanks to advances in combat medicine, routine use of body armor and armored troop transport, and improved weapons and tactics, is contributing to the addiction problem; increased troop survivability means that troops who, in the past, would have died from their wounds are surviving, and because of the severity and complexity of their injuries, require narcotics to manage their pain, often for many years.The end result is an unavoidable dependency on, and eventual addiction to, morphine, oxycontin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or other narcotics.

Once home, the problems facing Kentucky's addicted veterans increase exponentially: high unemployment, lasting emotional trauma, the stress of trying to readjust to civilian life, and Kentucky's own opiate epidemic, all contribute to keep our veterans trapped in the cycle of addiction, often with catastrophic results: marital turmoil and divorce; alienation of family and friends; frequent run-ins with the law, often leading to imprisonment; mental health issues; and worst of all, death by accidental drug overdose, suicide, or drug-related murder. And yet, they are being denied treatment that can easily save their lives and help them to become whole again for just a few cents a day.

Instead, the few narcotics addicts the VA deigns to treat with medication are receiving Suboxone, a newer drug that costs $16 for a single dose! For the price of that one dose, which treats one veteran for one day, two veterans can be treated with methadone for an entire month! Is this the VA's version of fiscal responsibility?

Although there is a certain stigma attached to the use of methadone, it arises not from its clinical use (governed by Federal regulations) in the treatment of opiate addiction, for which it is well suited, but in its abuse by people who obtain methadone tablets prescribed for pain, often from unscrupulous physicians more interested in money than in the lives of their patients or the safety of their communities.

Every day that a veteran is denied treatment through the VA is another day of suffering for him or her, for anyone who cares about them, and for the communities they live in. It's another day of making that terrible choice: to go through the torture of withdrawal or the anguish of "getting well", which forces the veteran, an otherwise law-abiding citizen, to commit one or more crimes, not to get high, but just to keep the sickness at bay a little longer. Addicted veterans are men and women who want very much to lead normal lives: to work, to raise families, to participate fully in society; to go to church and pray without feeling like hypocrites because of the things they had to do just to stay "well" for a few hours. They are people who want to plan their days around family, work, and service to the community, instead of being continual burdens on those cherished institutions and a constant drain on their resources.

Please ensure that Kentucky's veterans get the help they so desperately need and deserve. Every day you fail to act, lives continue to be destroyed or lost. Please, don't let them down. They answered the call when our country needed them--we ask only that you see to it that the promises made to our Veterans are kept.

Sponsor

Cliff Cook

Links

http://www.salon.com/2007/08/07/afghan_heroin/
http://www.tarzanatc.org/blogengine/category/Veterans-Drug-Addiction.aspx
http://www.legalhelpforveterans.com/2012/04/va-funded-study-shows-vets-prone-to-addiction-still-given-opiates-to-treat-ptsd/

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