VA adds more surveillance of veteran prescriptions to ‘improve drug safety’

Abbie Bennett
May 07, 2019 - 3:40 pm

ID 76967936 © Sherry Young |

The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking additional steps to strengthen its surveillance of medications veterans use, even outside the walls of the VA.

The VA is partnering with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to “greatly improve drug safety monitoring or prescriptions, including opioids,” the agency announced.

“VA is committed to patient safety, and our robust medication surveillance systems are part of that commitment,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “This agreement greatly enhances medication safety for veterans by providing better oversight of drugs that veterans may be able to obtain from both agencies.”

The VA already has a surveillance system “to ensure safe use” of medications by veteran patients and can analyze how veterans respond to those drugs. Now it will be able to track and analyze drugs prescribed to veterans outside VA walls through other government healthcare systems.

More than 5 million veterans get their prescriptions through the VA, but veterans who are enrolled in the VA and in Medicare can get prescriptions from both, which the VA says “creates the potential for adverse drug interactions, duplication of use and greater risk of adverse drug events, including overdoses.”

The VA also is partnering with Cigna, a health services company, to improve safety and quality of care for veterans with chronic pain who could be at risk of opioid misuse. 

The partnership is a continuation of work Cigna has already been doing to help veterans and reduce opioid use. Last year, the company helped reduce opioid use among its customers by 25 percent and launched a national support line for all veterans, their families and caregivers.

But there's more work to be done, according to Cigna, since even though fewer opioids are being prescribed, the number of overdoses continues to rise, according to Cigna claims data and CDC data on opioid use. 

Want to get more connected to the great stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Follow Abbie Bennett,@AbbieRBennett.