Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson’s promotion from White House physician to Secretary of Veterans Affairs may be in jeopardy due multiple claims of poor leadership and on-the-job boozing, but there’s one accusation that may actually make him the perfect man for the job: his alleged propensity for doling out prescription drugs “like candy,” according to one lawmaker.
Jackson was reportedly known as “the candy man” in White House circles due to his lax attitude towards prescribing controlled substances to government employees, according to Sen. Jon Tester, a ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
During overseas trips, Jackson would “go down the aisle way of the airplane and say, ‘All right, who wants to go to sleep?’ And hand out the prescription drugs like they were candy,” Tester, Democrat from Montana, told CNN on Tuesday, citing conversations with 23 of Jackson’s past colleagues. “[He’d] put them to sleep and then give them the drugs to wake them back up again … these are called controlled substances for a reason.”
Really, Jon? Because if there’s one thing that the VA’s good at, it’s prescribing controlled substances.
Amid a national opioid crisis brought on by the overprescribing of painkillers, Veterans Health Administration medical facilities have indiscriminately handed out such powerful drugs to patients struggling with chronic pain — 9 million patients annually. According to VA data obtained by CBS News in 2014, narcotics prescriptions skyrocketed 259 percent since the early years of the Global War on Terror, eclipsing the meager 29 percent increase in actual patients during the same period. (Vets receiving private medical treatment are at even more risk of developing an addiction to their medication, but nobody ever said the VA was perfect.)
Okay, so maybe VA doctors overdid it a little. It turns out that U.S. veterans are twice as likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose than civilians, according to Reuters. A July 2017 VA OIG report concluded that some 63 percent of vets that receive opioids for chronic pain from the VA also have a mental health diagnosis like PTSD or depression that complicates pain management treatment and carries a higher risk of suicide. Those veterans were three times more likely to receive opioids for pain diagnoses at VA hospitals than other vets.
But to be fair, the VA was just acting on the advice of OxyContin manufactures like Purdue Pharma that, according to documents made public by Newsweek in October 2017, influenced the VA and DoD guidelines to minimize the addictive properties of opioids and explicitly targeted combat veterans. And honestly who better to trust about the safety of a drug than the very people making billions of dollars by pushing it to the public. Why would they ever lie?
Naturally, the VA responded to the tide of addictions it had inadvertently caused by cutting people off cold turkey: VA data released in January 2018 revealed that 99 percent of facilities between 2012 and 2017 saw significant decreases in their opiate prescription rates.
Whoops! Turns out that taking drugs away from addicted veterans only wound up sending them into the hands of heroin dealers and other illicit sources of opioids. VA doctors apparently spent too much time “focusing on taking patients off opioids without offering appropriate addiction counseling or addressing how they’re needlessly hurting all the chronic pain patients they’re taking off these meds,” according to the maddening 2017 Newsweek investigation.
This is why Jackson’s laissez-faire attitude to meds might be just what the doctor ordered: If we’re going to get former service members hooked on powerful drugs, shouldn’t a major corporation headquartered in the good ol’ USA, paying taxes and employing our hard-working citizens, reap the profits? Perhaps this is why the White House has doubled down on Jackson’s nomination despite the allegations against him; after all, handing out prescriptions for powerful and addictive drugs willy-nilly isn’t a scandal — it’s an American pastime