Report: Military, vets getting ‘dubious’ pain drugs at ‘astronomical’ taxpayer expense

July 22, 2024 | CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod talks with WTOP (WTOPSTAFF)

WASHINGTON — American troops and veterans suffering from pain are reportedly being prescribed drugs whose benefit is dubious at best, at a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars.

CBS Correspondent Jim Axelrod says that Pentagon spending on custom prescriptions by compounding pharmacies has exploded recently: In the past year, he reports, the military health benefit system, Tricare, spent more than $300 million a month on the drugs, up from $42 million a month last year.

Axelrod says in an interview with WTOP that Maj. Gen. Richard Thomas, head of Tricare and a doctor and chair of the Army’s Task For on Pain, calls it a “big, expensive problem,” and the increase in spending “astronomical.”

Worst of all, Axelrod says, Thomas told him that the expensive prescriptions, such as scar and pain creams that can be billed for up to $15,000 for a one-month supply, are of “dubious clinical benefit, if any at all.”

“When you have that kind of money in play, there are all kinds of websites reaching out” to military members and veterans, promising prescriptions and asking only for their Tricare numbers. There’s no appointment or examination necessary. Doctors sign off on the prescriptions, and the recipients get the drugs, he says.

The key to the system is doctors who will sign off on prescriptions remotely, and Axelrod says that on Wednesday night’s CBS News, Axelrod says, he’ll confront a doctor “who actually signed a prescription for me. I put my name on one of these Web pages, and two weeks later, I got medication sent to me even though I never talked to a doctor, never visited with a doctor, never met with a doctor.”

The CEO of compounding pharmacy Patient Care America, Patrick Smith, declined a CBS News request for an interview, but said pain creams offer military personnel an alternative to often addictive painkillers.

This week, Tricare is implementing a new claims screening process to reduce spending on compounded drugs, CBS News says.

As for criminal charges against the pharmacies or doctors involved, Axelrod says, “It’s too soon to say.”

CBS News contributed to this report.

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