Opioid Distribution Becoming More Common for Non-Surgical Procedures
In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that overdoses due to opioid pain relievers surpassed deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined. From adolescents to the elderly, fatal overdoses due to prescription drug abuse are growing, raising the concern of doctors, parents and friends of those with a drug addiction. The problem may start in our hospitals.
A new study from researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center reveals that primary care doctors may prescribe pain medication without realizing the amount of painkillers that their patient is already taking.
Painkillers are commonly given to patients who have undergone surgery, but the study revealed that over 50 percent of the 1.14 million adult nonsurgical hospital patients in their study were prescribed high doses of opioids. Researchers found revealing statistics about the amount of opioids the patients are prescribed, and even regional differences in the amount of painkillers that are prescribed. This study appeared in The Journal of Hospital Medicine and included data from admissions at 286 hospitals.
Opioids for Non-Surgical Reasons
Patients admitted for non-surgical reasons such as heart problems, acute infections, musculoskeletal injuries and other ailments receive large doses of opioids to soothe their pain. Shoshana J. Herzig, M.D., M.P.H., the study’s first author, noticed that the non-surgical patients in the study were getting a very high dose of opioids, an average dose of 68 milligrams of oral morphine equivalents each day of their hospital stay. Dr. Herzig says that almost a quarter of the patients were receiving a very high dosage of more than 100 milligrams a day. These high doses leave them at a greater risk of developing breathing and other serious health problems.
Coming Home with Opioids
On the day they came home from the hospital, 26 percent of the patients came home with opioids. Most likely these patients also had pain prescriptions from their doctor.
The study also revealed that almost half of the patients received more than one type of opioid. This doubling up on medication mirrors teens who receive prescriptions from a doctor and then get more from friends or relatives who hand out their extras.
Opioid abuse threatens teens in multiple ways. While some get the painkillers after a stay at the hospital, others are getting them for athletic injuries. If multiple painkillers are distributed without the oversight of a physician, teens may start to rely on the relief that painkillers give them. Over time their body becomes resistant to the power of the painkiller and they crave more. While they may feel they are not getting enough, their body is actually getting too much.
Safe Distribution of Pain Medication
Dr. Herzig and her team hope that their research spurs physicians to look at who all is prescribing painkillers to their patients and how much they are being prescribed. She believes that there needs to be more communication between hospitals and primary care providers.
With multiple providers from hospitals and doctor offices, families need to be aware of how much medication their teen is receiving after a hospital stay, taking into account any other painkillers they’ve received after sports injuries or for other reasons. With proper distribution pain medicine can help make life bearable, but with uncontrolled medication it can take that life.