By Debbie Gregory.
As the first anniversary of Jason Simcakoski’s passing approaches, an inspector general’s report faults a Wisconsin Veterans Affairs hospital for the accidental overdose of the Marine Corps veteran.
The outrage of Simcakoski’s death has sparked legislation aimed at strengthening guidelines for prescribing painkillers. His parents, widow and daughter watched as a Senate committee weighed an overhaul bill, sponsored by a Wisconsin senator, designed to curb overdose deaths at Wisconsin’s Tomah VA and other medical centers across the country. It was a crucial first step for the legislation, though many hurdles remain and its future is uncertain.
The inspector general’s report revealed that Jason Simcakoski’s death in August, 2014 was a reaction to a toxic mix of at least 12 prescribed drugs. It also faulted VA staff for the chaotic resuscitation response, and failing to have the proper drugs on hand to counteract Simcakoski’s overdose.
The Tomah VA has been dubbed “Candyland” for what some say was wanton overprescription of opiates.
Simcakoski served in the Marines from 1998-2002 and suffered a head injury. Anxiety attacks led him to seek care at the Tomah VA, where his family said he struggled for over four years with no improvement, despite a long list of medications.
An autopsy found the mix of drugs in system resulted in his death while an in-patient at the facility. The two psychiatrists who prescribed drugs to Simcakoski did not talk to him or his family about risks associated with the drugs.
In response to the report, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who requested the investigation, released a statement saying “This report confirms that the Tomah VA physicians entrusted with Jason’s care failed to keep their promise to a Wisconsin Marine and his family.”
Sen. Baldwin has sponsored a bill that calls for an update to guidelines for the use of opioids for pain management, new safety training for health care providers, and real-time reporting and tracking of veterans’ narcotic prescriptions. Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.V., cosponsored the bill.
The report on Simcakoski’s death recommends local VA officials determine whether anyone should be punished, and that the facility director review medical emergency procedures.
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The Tragic Consequences of Over-Prescribing of Painkillers : Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory