#OurPain: Opioid crackdown leaves veterans in pain

LAS VEGAS - Among the millions of people coping with chronic pain everyday, many of our veterans suffer the most.

The years of service and injuries take their toll and for many, the only relief comes from opioids. But navigating the VA system is far from easy and fewer prescriptions are being written.

This isn't necessarily a problem with Veterans Affairs.

In reality, they're only following the rules handed down from the federal government.

But the lack of prescription opioids is leaving legions of vets in chronic pain years after they served their country.

"I'm one of the problem patients," said Bosko Katic, U.S. Army veteran.

When Catic sat down with 8 News NOW, you could tell it was painful. Not because of the conversation, though the topic was deeply personal.

"I'm 100 percent disabled," he said.

For Katic, pain simply never goes away.

"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Left leg. Secondary for my right knee. Secondary for my back," he said. "I've had roughly 30 broken bones."

Katic joined the army in 1975.

"11th Army Cavalry Regiment, the 3rd Squadron."

He's a Cold War veteran, who for a time says he was imprisoned by East Germans. It's an experience that opens up the physical and mental pain he still holds.

"We called our unit the 'Suicidal Delay Force.' We were expected to be overrun."

His time in the military is like a menu of injuries at the most insufferable restaurant.

"I wound up with 41 operations. Eighteen operations on the left knee. I've had two titanium knees. Ruptured my entire quadriceps tendon," he said.

Relief comes from opioids.

"Without it, I would be in bed. I wouldn't be getting up and going around. And with the medication, it improved the quality of my life."

But like so many other veterans, quality of life achieved through pain medication is being taken away.

Efforts by federal regulators and agencies to curb drug abuse has motivated the VA to siphon off opioids.

Dosages have been cut down, and patients are now forced to go to the doctor more frequently for prescriptions they sometimes won't write.

Katic experienced this first-hand.

 "Basically, you were stigmatized as a junkie," he said.

"We know that for a few pennies, from the God given poppy plant, we can save their lives," said Dr. Forest Tennant.

He is one of many in the medical community pushing the feds to relax its rules. Some of his patients are vets too.

"He has both his legs gone and a brain cancer that's growing and his VA hospital will not give him a codeine or a norco for pain. Not one!" Dr. Tennant said.

And the absence of opiods is taking a real toll.

Suicides among veterans is up.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported 127 vets took their own lives. And while not all are associated with chronic pain, experts have noticed a nationwide trend. Some who have served just cannot live with the pain.

"Let's call it what it is. The crisis are not the opioids," Dr. Tennant said.

For Katic, the crisis is in his knees and it's not going away.

"Once you get so many surgeries, they don't want to deal with you because they know they're going to be prescribing and it's just a numbers game now," Katic said. "We did serve honorably. we put our lives on the line. I'm scarred physically and emotionally wounded, but I'm sure many vets are  and they are."  

There is some hope that alternative medicines can help but that largely depends on the patient. Dr. Tennant says many who have chronic pain need more than marijuana to help. The VA has an opioid safety initiative to help veterans.  

There is a section #OurPain with more stories, links and information.

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