Press Releases

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) this week reintroduced the Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act, legislation that would prevent the overmedication of veterans and combat suicide deaths. The bill would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct an independent expert study on the deaths of all veterans being treated at the VA who died by suicide or from a drug overdose in the last five years. This review would ensure that the VA has accurate information about the relationship between veteran suicides and prescription medication.

An average of 20 veterans a day die from suicide, accounting for nearly a quarter of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults. Since 2001, the rate of veteran suicide has increased by 32 percent. After controlling for age and gender, this makes the risk of suicide 21 percent higher for veterans than the average U.S. adult. Since 2001, there has been a 259 percent increase in narcotics prescriptions. In the largest veteran populations, veterans die from accidental narcotic overdose at a 33 percent higher rate than the rest of the population. Veterans can “double dip” on prescription drugs by filling at the VA and in the community. Although the VA has established State Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, there is no real enforcement.

“The tragedy of 20 veterans a day dying from suicide is a national scandal,” said Senator McCain. “Combatting this epidemic will require the best research and understanding about the key causes of veteran suicide, including whether overmedication of drugs, such as opioid pain-killers, is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths. This legislation would authorize an independent review of veterans who died of suicide or a drug overdose over the last five years to ensure doctors develop safe and effective treatment plans for their veteran patients. We have a long way to go to eradicate veteran suicide, but this legislation builds on important efforts to end the tragedy that continues to claim far too many lives far too soon.”

The legislation would require a National Academies of Science study to review:

  • The number of veterans who died by suicide or accidental death in the last five years;
  • The prevalence of medications or illegal substances in the system of each veteran who died;
  • The number of instances in which the veteran was concurrently on multiple medications prescribed by VA physicians or non-VA physicians;
  • The percentage of veterans who are receiving non-medication first-line treatment (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) as treatment and its effectiveness versus other treatments;
  • An analysis, by state, of programs of the VA that collaborate with state Medicaid agencies, including an analysis of the sharing of prescription and behavioral health data for veterans; and
  • Other aspects of care and recommendations to improve the safety and well-being of veterans.

The legislation is here.

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