Why Did Washington Look Away as the VA Fueled an Opioid Addiction in Our Community?

Tomah is a little bit more than 930 miles from Washington, D.C. But when I was the city’s mayor, there were times when it felt like the two cities were a world apart.

This was certainly the case when some in our nation’s capital looked the other way as a devastating opioid epidemic gripped our local community. Eventually, an Inspector General report would confirm what I had hoped was not true: The epicenter of the crisis was our Tomah Veterans Administration Medical Center, a pillar of our tight-knit community.

The details were heart-wrenching. Of more than 3,000 practitioners in the multistate region, the three highest prescribers of opiates were at the Tomah VA.  They handed out so many narcotics that the hospital had earned the nickname “Candy Land.”

In the past few years, several Tomah VA pharmacists have quit or were fired for expressing their concerns over the prolific prescriptions. And, in other reports, hospital workers said patients often showed up for appointments “doped up” and “zombified.”

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