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Research suggests opioid crisis stems from prescription approach

Published on 18/05/17 at 10:13am

The opioid crisis that is currently gripping North America is gaining more and more news traction as the damage to communities and individuals becomes clearer. Alongside the headlines, the research into opioid abuse is also beginning to mount proportionately to the damage it is causing. Now, research has shifted to the point of dispensation to see what can be learnt from observing prescription methods by doctors and by hospitals.

One particularly note-worthy study, produced by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that the opioid painkillers were being prescribed in cases where they were not necessary. The research found that opioids were being given to patients for minor injuries, such as ankle sprains. Further than this, the number of pills that were given to patients proved to be a good indicator of whether the patient may fill a further prescription.

Patients received between 15 to 40 pills when being treated in US emergency departments. The research also revealed that those who received more than 30 pills were twice as likely to fill in an additional opioid prescription within three to six months.

"The substantial variation in prescribing patterns of such extremely addictive medications for minor injuries results in many thousands of pills entering the community, and places patients at an increased risk of continued use and potentially addiction," said lead author M. Kit Delgado, an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Epidemiology at Penn. "It's vital that we identify and understand the root causes of this growing issue."

Different research emerging from Harvard Medical School found that physicians who are more likely to prescribe opioids have patients that are more likely to develop a problem with long-term opioid users. The study found that patients who were treated by the most frequent prescribers of opioids were 30% more likely to become long-term opioids users (defined by taking 6 to 12 months of prescription opioids).

The two studies point towards the need for greater control of the supply of opioids emerging from physicians or hospitals – whether this be through increased guidance or through law. New Jersey, for instance, recently passed a law limiting new opioid prescription to no more than a five-day supply of medication. 

Ben Hargreaves

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