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V.A. Doctor Says She was Fired for Refusing to Prescribe Higher Doses of Narcotic Painkillers

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(Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman)   A physician working at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) hospital in Missouri claims she was fired for refusing to prescribe higher doses of addictive painkillers to patients.

Dr. Basimah Khulusi told the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and ABC News that she lost her job at the VA hospital in Kansas City after patients complained that she would not authorize more powerful amounts of opiates.

“I had to do something about it. And I tried,” Khulusi said. “And then, you know, I was let go.”

Khulusi told CIR that the VA informed her she was being terminated so they could replace her with a new doctor who was willing to work in a VA clinic that specialized in giving pain medicine injections.

Abuse of painkillers has been a serious concern among VA patients, with prescriptions for opiates, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine, rising by 270% between 2001 and 2012, according to CIR. That has contributed to a fatal overdose rate of almost double the national average, according to an analysis that was performed by scientists who are part of the VA staff.

Opiate prescriptions at the Kansas City VA alone soared by 173% during the period in question.

Khulusi explained that the majority of her patients were addicted to the drugs, which was why she refused to up their doses.

Some veterans were taking 900 narcotic pain pills a month and 1,000 milligrams of morphine a day, which is 10 times the level she said was safe.

Some of Khulusi’s patients expressed appreciation for her efforts to wean them off of the drugs, but others threatened her, “cussing, cursing, lashing out, complaining to the administration, complaining to the [medical] board to try to take my license away from me,” she told CIR.

VA officials say they are trying to address the problem with a new program, the Opioid Safety Initiative, which is supposed to cut down the number of narcotic painkiller prescriptions.

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