Three military treatment facilities are overprescribing opioids, IG's report says

Julia LeDoux
January 17, 2020 - 11:18 am

Drug Enforcement Agency


Patients at three military hospitals were routinely overprescribed opioids during the two-year period from 2015 to 2017.

That’s according to a report released this week by the Defense Department’s Inspector General, which found that one patient at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska received 2,450 oxycodone tablets over a 12 month period. Another patient was prescribed 4,750 tablets over a two-year period. 

Opioids include legally prescribed pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and morphine.  Heroin, which is illegal, is also classed as an opioid.

The audit also zeroed in on specific examples of beneficiaries who received opioids at Madigan Army Medical Center in Joint Base Lewis–McChord, Washington and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Portsmouth, Virginia.

The objective of the audit was to determine whether selected military treatment facilities overprescribed opioids for DoD beneficiaries.  The report concluded that military treatment facilities potentially overprescribed opioids “because the DHA (Defense Health Agency) and Military Departments did not have policies and processes in place to identify and monitor beneficiaries who were prescribed over 90 MME (milligrams) per day.”

The IG”s report also said that poor record-keeping made it hard to get a handle on the scope of the opioid overprescribing.

"These errors prevented us from being able to determine the full universe of beneficiaries who were prescribed opioids above the recommended dose of 90 MME," the report reads.

A pharmacist at one of the hospitals also told IG staff that there “is not a will” to prevent some patients from receiving too many opioids.

The report didn’t attribute any deaths or suicides to opioid overprescribing at the three hospitals named in the audit.

The report recommends that the DHA "monitor MME doses per day by the beneficiary, examine data for unusually high opioid prescriptions, and if appropriate, hold providers accountable for overprescribing opioids."

The DHA agreed with the recommendation, adding that "it has already implemented solutions to the findings in the report."

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