Congressman Phil Roe comments on veteran's opioid policy


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - The Department of Veterans Affairs has an opioid safety initiative in place to make opioid prescribing safer.

Doctors at the V-A say the policy usually ends in cutting off prescriptions altogether.

Now, after many complaints by veterans, Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN), who is the chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, is commenting on the need to possibly change that policy.

One complaint is from local marine veteran Robert Rose.

He injured his hips, legs, and ankles in a training accident and was medically discharged in 1994.

He was prescribed 180 milligrams of morphine sulfate to manage the chronic pain he suffered as a result of the accident.

"I had a life using pain medicine...I was working as a high school teacher... I was able to take my kids hiking, fishing canoeing," Rose said.

But last year, the V-A began forcing him to taper off opioids as part of an initiative to reduce widespread opioid addiction by veterans.

"It's been a bad year," Rose said.

His health is worse, but Rose still has a fight left in him.

Earlier this month, he filed a $350 million lawsuit against Roe, and doctors and officials of the V-A system.

He's in the middle of the controversy over the need for pain relief and a drug addiction crisis.

Doctors at the V-A acknowledge they are still learning how to treat chronic pain, but don't want to prescribe opioids if the risks outweigh the benefits.

"We can find effective pain relievers, but the safety issue precludes using them. And that's where the difficulty comes with patients that have been on long term opioid therapy," said Dr. Thomas Edwards, director of pain management at the Mountain Home V-A in Johnson City.

Congressman Roe has no comment on the lawsuit, but told News 5 in a written statement: "I also have been made aware of many concerns from veterans that necessary pain management may have been reduced or eliminated too quickly and will conduct oversight through my position as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs as to whether the policy needs to be modified. "

The former marine says he feels for other veterans-- like him-- living in pain.

"They are ignoring us, they are not listening to us, so someone has to step up and expose the deny until dead policy," he said.

News 5 will continue to follow this lawsuit as it makes its way through the court system.

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