As the prescription painkiller opioid epidemic continues, healthcare officials and top leaders in government are scrambling to find effective solutions. Most states have implemented prescription monitoring tools, more doctors are increasing their education regarding painkillers, and hospitals throughout the country have started screening their patients for potential painkiller addictions. One overlooked population includes the large number of people who are prescribed opiates following outpatient surgery. One researcher has identified this as a way to cut down on the number of pills being given to patients.
According to Richard J. Barth, chief of general surgery at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, doctors often prescribe larger numbers of painkillers after surgery as more of a convenience factor. However, reducing the number of visits or steps for a prescription refill has contributed to the painkiller problem in America.
This single action has the potential to have a significant impact on the volume of drugs being legally prescribed – and the subsequent overflow onto the black market. This theory was tested and proven by Dr. Barth and his group of researchers at five outpatient surgery clinics.
Many outpatient surgeries are invasive and the recovery can be difficult and painful. Sometimes patients are given 50 pills or more as part of their post-op care. But upon further inspection, the patients report that they were only taking about 28% of their prescriptions. This is an important factor because it shows that doctors are overprescribing and that because of the all the leftover pills, there leaves room for other people to use the prescription, especially addicts. Barth indicated that most patients really only need an average of about 15 pills, and that switching to non-narcotic pain relievers earlier was very effective.
While conducting their study, which appears in the Annals of Medicine, the researchers asked a group of outpatient surgeons to limit the number of painkillers they were prescribing for many procedures. They found that the patients who received less painkillers recovered quicker and did not ask for refills. The study shows a positive outcome when doctors limit their prescriptions for narcotics and also illustrates the need for more comprehensive studies into the level of pain associated with many outpatient surgeries.