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Opioid problems triggered by duration, not dosage, says study

Opioids are usually prescribed to patients after surgery to relieve intense pain or to those suffering from chronic pain. But at times, this practice leads to overprescribing by doctors and misuse by patients. According to a recent study by researchers from the Harvard Medical School, the susceptibility of getting addicted to opioids might be related to the duration for which opioids are taken than on the number of the pills prescribed.

The team of researchers evaluated more than half a million records of 560,000 patients who were privately insured and had been prescribed opioids subsequent to a surgical procedure between 2008 and 2016. None of the patients had a history of opioid abuse. The premise behind studying this data was to find out the number of patients who suffered with opioid addiction afterward. The authors found that every refill and an additional week of medication usage was linked with an increased risk of complications.

Lead author Gabriel Brat, a trauma surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, shared that it is the responsibility of the surgeons to strike a balance between pain management and risk of opioid abuse and that with the stroke of his pen, a surgeon can make a lot of difference in a patient’s life.

Need of close monitoring over duration of prescription opioids

The nation is already fighting a battle against opioid crisis from all quarters, which has taken away millions of precious lives. In 2016, 40 percent of overdose-related deaths were because of prescription opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had in fact, set guidelines for doctors for prescribing opioids for chronic pain that suggests prescribing the lowest dose and only for “the number of days that the pain is expected to be severe enough to require opioids.”

In the study, out of the total number of patients, 5,906 patients developed symptoms of abuse and dependence, and experienced a nonfatal overdose, which according to the researchers was “opioid misuse”. The researchers noted that each refill increased the risk of abuse or overdose by 44 percent, whereas each week of opioid prescription increased the risk by 20 percent. They also found that dosage was not a strong predictor of the complications however, the duration was critical. However, dosage mattered when people took drugs for nine weeks or longer. The researchers concluded that if pain persists for long, the surgeons must direct the patients to pain specialists. They also suggested that the best course of action would be giving moderate to high doses for shorter durations.

General practices followed by physicians

Here are some of the general practices, which are agreed upon by most of the health practitioners:

  • The goal of postsurgical pain alleviation should be to start with a strong dose and mitigate the pain quickly instead of starting with low doses over an extended period as that might lead to dependence and possibly, an addiction.
  • The length of time for which opioids will be required after a procedure depends on the type of procedure therefore, patients should be encouraged to be highly compliant.
  • After the pain has subsided, the patients must be encouraged to dispose of the unused medications.
  • Patients should also be briefed about alternative pain management therapies.

Comprehensive treatment for pain management

Opioid addiction can cause both short- and long-term physical and psychological changes. What begins as a means to cure pain can soon become a habit, and before one realizes, the person is trapped in a vicious cycle. Therefore, it is important to seek timely intervention from a good rehab center, which can aid in recovery through an integrated methodology.

If you know someone who is abusing any drug or a prescription painkiller, help them by connecting them to the 24/7 Recovery Helpline experts. They can assist you or your loved one in finding the best drug addiction help online. You can also call our 24-hour drug helpline (855) 441-4405 or chat online with one of representatives to get connected to the drug rehab help center instantly.

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