The United States military said Monday it would pay for prescription opioids prescribed by doctors in its hospitals, which are facing a rise in deaths from opioids and other medications.
The announcement comes amid a national debate over whether the government should help patients manage the consequences of their medication, which include an increased risk of addiction and death.
The Defense Department, which runs the nation’s largest veterans health care system, said it would use a $1.1 billion appropriation from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to pay for the cost of prescriptions for opioid analgesics and other prescription medications, and for the purchase of dispensing devices to help pharmacies administer the medications.
It will be used for “the necessary cost of administering and dispensing opioid analgesic products and devices, including dispensing of opioid analgesia to physicians and pharmacies,” according to the DOD.
“The DOD is committed to the care and treatment of veterans and their families, and we will continue to provide critical services for our nation’s wounded and sick service members, and their family members and caregivers,” a DOD statement said.
It added: “We have a shared goal of ensuring that our wounded and ill service members and their dependents are treated humanely and with dignity, and that our veterans are receiving the care they need.”
The DOD said it plans to use the funds to purchase dispensing equipment, as well as other supplies for hospitals, to help with dispensing and dispensations of prescription opioids.DOD is not the only federal agency that is grappling with opioid addiction.
Congress and the White House have made it a priority to make sure veterans have access to the medications they need to manage the effects of the drugs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said in December that it was also investigating whether prescription painkillers were being used improperly.
The VA said at the time that it had identified “a wide variety of instances” where doctors prescribed opioids for treating chronic pain in patients, but it had not found any instances where they had used prescription opioids in the treatment of chronic pain.
The Trump administration is also grappling with a surge in the use of the opioid painkiller fentanyl.
The drugs have been used in large amounts to treat a variety of conditions, including pain, but some experts say they can also be abused, causing addiction.
The DOD announced the change in the budget plan, saying that it would work with the VA to “provide assistance for the VA’s need to acquire prescription opioid medication and related supplies, and to help ensure timely access to appropriate and affordable prescription medications and related items.”