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Using Unnecessary Opiates after Low-Pain Surgery Increases Addiction Risk

posted 01:27 AM EST, Tue March 13, 2012
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Unless you really need strong pain relief, you’re probably better off without the opiate pain meds often prescribed after minor low-pain surgeries. In a recent Canadian study, about 10% of people given opiates they didn’t really need ended up addicted.

Using opiate painkillers within a week after minor surgery greatly increases your odds of developing an opiate addiction.

That’s the story from Canadian researchers who looked at the medical records of 391,139 patients in Ontario to see whether using opiates after minor surgery was associated with any increased risk of addiction.

The Study

All subjects in the study were over the age of 66 and all had undergone a minor (low pain) surgical procedure, such as cataract surgery, varicose vein stripping or gallbladder removal.

  • Of these patients, 7% received a prescription for opiate pain medications within a week of their surgery
  • Of those who received opiates, 10% were still using them a year after their surgery date
  • Of those who continued to use opiates, many upgraded to more potent opiate medications over the course of that first year of use

The researchers say that patients are often prescribed a standardized post surgery dose of opiate pain medications, regardless of the actual anticipated need for analgesics following low-pain surgeries. Because of this, many patients use opiates needlessly and increase their risk of addiction.

Commenting on the findings, study co-author Dr. Chaim Bell said, “We tried to look at what some of the events are that start people on the road to acute or chronic use of opioids. It's much easier to prevent the initiation of the medication than wean people off it later. Everyone should get pain relief, but the painkiller and the dose should be tailored to the specific patient."

The full study results can be found in the current edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.

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Story Highlights
  • Opiate Addiction: 10% of those given opiates after low-pain surgeries were still using them a year later
  • Over-Prescribing: Experts call for an end to the standardized prescription of post-op opiates and for a better matching of actual need for analgesia with prescribed treatment
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