JONESBORO, Ark. – For several weeks, NEA Report received messages about a veteran holding a sign at the corner of Caraway Road and Nettleton Avenue, by the McDonald’s location there.
Many asked us to find out what his story was and we, too, wanted to know. After he explained it to us, we believe it comes with some controversy. We are going to shield the man’s name. He allowed NEA Report to photograph his sign but we will not include his face.
The veteran said he has been painting houses in Jonesboro for 13 years but not without its physical toll. The man, very proud of his independence and having paid his bills since a young age, said he has begun to feel more pain as he is getting into his “middle age.”
“The V.A. gave me some hydrocodones and it’s worked very well,” He said. “I can put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, that’s important to me.”
The man said he was receiving a prescription for 120 hydrocodones per month until the V.A. opted to cut his prescription in half and replace the other half with Gabapentin – like Vicodin (hydrocodone), which works on nerve pain instead of generic pain. Hydrocodones are highly addictive, which makes it a valuable street drug, selling for up to $10 a pill, sources have said.
“The V.A. decided to cut me off of these hydrocodones,” He said. “So, now, I’m doing maybe 2/3 of a day’s work. I don’t like that. I’m doing that because I don’t have the hydrocodones. Right now, they have me cut off, 50 percent. Just because they cut me off 50 percent of the hydrocodones doesn’t mean 50 percent of the pain went away.”
The man said he had been taking about 105 to 110 of his hydrocodone prescription per month when the V.A. cut it in half.
“Had they brought me down to 90 for three or four months, I could have probably handled that,” He said. “But they cut me off fast.”
While he says he was cut off, the man was, by his own admission, prescribed Gabapentin as a replacement. Gabapentin is often prescribed for nerve pain. To hear the man describe his pain, a burning sensation in his legs, it sounds as though nerve pain causes the most of his discomfort.
Researching discussion forums for patients who take the medication showed some experience sleepiness when they first begin to take it – the opposite of an energy rush the man said he felt from the hydros. The man called it a “Frankenstein” drug. The man said he didn’t want to take the Gabapentin because of the side effects. He listed some of them from the prescription sheet.
However, a search of Drugs.com show both Gabapentin and Vicodin to have the same possible side effects.
“But the hydrocodones I use give me energy but I don’t want to argue with you about that,” He said. “You’re sounding like the doctors.”
The man would not be swayed into accepting the side effects of one pain medication were similar to the side effects of another. He said he knows what makes him feel good and what doesn’t.
He said he feels like many other veterans are probably going through what he is – or far worse.
“I’m not part of the program of these people,” He said. “I’m not part of the Jonesboro V.A. I’m a number, and everything they do is according to the book, and according to this, that, and the other – not consultation.”
Following the initial publication, NEA Report was notified of the man in this story being a registered sex offender, level 4, convicted of rape. We are including this in the event a reader takes further interest in this story.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referenced Gabapentin as an opioid. It is, in fact, not an opioid. It does have similar side effects to hydrocodone, an opioid, and is often prescribed as a replacement. We regret the error.