Study Finds Chronic Opioid Use Increased With 11 Common Surgeries

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found chronic opioid use increased with 11 common surgeries performed between 2001-2013. This is a major concern considering more U.S. citizens died from a drug overdose in 2014 than any other year. Because physicians are responsible for prescribing/distributing most opioids, it’s imperative changes are made to reduce the risk of opioid misuse or dependence.

The study was led by Dr. Eric Sun and co-authored by Professor Beth Darnall from the Stanford University School of Medicine in California. While there have been numerous studies on the risks of chronic opioid use after surgery, Dr. Sun and his colleagues wanted to study patients who did not receive an opioid prescription for at least 1 year before their surgery.

The opioid drugs that were examined in this study included hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl. The team analyzed health claims that were filed between 2001-2013 from over 640,000 privately insured patients between the ages of 18-64. As we mentioned previously, the criteria for this study required patients to not fill an opioid prescription the year before their surgery.

This data was then compared to approximately 18 million nonsurgical patients who did not have opioid prescriptions. Chronic opioid use among these patients at this study was defined as, “10 or more prescriptions or a 120-day supply of opioids in the first year following surgery.”

Ultimately, the results from the study found patients who underwent knee surgery had the highest risk of chronic opioid use. These patients were five times more likely to use opioids than the control group. In second “place” came patients who had gallbladder surgery; the study discovered they had a 3.5-times higher risk than the control group for chronic opioid use. Women who had a cesarean section while giving birth also had a 28% higher risk of chronically using opioids.

Physicians contend that reducing the risk of chronic opioid use can happen by finding other ways to help patients control their pain. Some argue that a lot of pain pill use comes from catastrophising surgeries before they even happen. If physicians can improve a patient’s psychology before their procedure, the patient is less likely to rely on opioids to manage their pain.

Furthermore, there are alternative pain therapies and lower doses of pain medication that can help patients get their post-surgery recovery. It’s up to surgeons and their patients to work together to find different ways to manage pain.

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The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.