VA Junkies

Or that’s what some might think they are. Strung-out veterans in a government methadone program? Hardly. These are the veterans with sleep disorders who rely on Ambien or its generic, zolpidem tartrate, to get some sleep. Without this drug many lie awake night after night, often exacerbating other medical conditions.

So why is Ambien (zolpidem) so difficult to get in the VA medical system?
According to one veteran and confirmed by the VA, doctors only can prescribe a week’s worth of the stuff — seven days — or 14 days if you’re lucky enough to need only 5 mg a night. Why? One doc thought it was because of cost, but the VA told us the policy was in keeping with the manufacturer’s recommendations. We thought we’d check those guidelines and found the manufacturer warns that a prolonged need for the drug might indicate an underlying medical condition, possibly something psychological. OK. Fair enough. The warning further states that prolonged use might result in tolerance (the medicine losing its effect) and dependence. All fair. (Hey, what are some of those bizarre — yet possible — side effects of the drugs hawked nightly on the networks?)

Here’s what’s interesting: Military medical facilities like Bethesda dispense 30-day Ambien (zolpidem) prescriptions with multiple refills. What do they know that the VA doesn’t? What does the VA know that the military facilities don’t? Are those at military facilities less likely to have underlying medical problems? Is the VA concerned its population is more prone to addiction and selling personal meds for cash? Purely speculation on our part.

Back at the VA, some veterans return every two weeks just for the ‘script.’ Others call in to their doctors, like recovering addicts in a meth program. At least one veteran has offered to buy the stuff (zolpidem is pretty cheap) on the outside with a VA prescription. It seems this solution is a no-go with the VA.

When queried, the VA stated its policy on the dispensing of Ambien (zolpidem) was under review, and its new guidelines were to be published last week. Nothing has come out as of this writing, and we don’t understand how something like this appears to be so difficult to correct. New veterans are expected to enter the VA’s medical system; chances there will be a few sleep disorders in this group.

No veteran should have to feel like a street junkie.

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