Most Surgery Patients Have Lots of Unused Opioids

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The opioid epidemic is fueled by prescription opioids. More than half of people who misuse opioid medications get them from a friend or relative. Recently, 6 studies (810 patients total) were reviewed in which patients were prescribed opioids following 1 of 7 surgeries (obstetric, general, thoracic, dermatologic, orthopedic, dental or urologic). Unused medication was reported by 67% to 92% of the patients. Three studies showed that 7%-14% of patients never took the medication after filling prescriptions. Pills were not taken due to lack of pain or because of side effects. As many as 42% to 71% of all the opioid tablets were unused.

In 2 studies that looked at storage safety, 3/4 of the prescriptions were not stored in a locked location. When reported, less than 10% of patients used a FDA recommended method for disposal.

Clearly, healthcare providers can do more to reduce prescription opioids in peoples’ homes. Efforts should include personalizing prescriptions rather than using a one size- fits-all approach, and educating patients about proper disposal.

• Bicket M, et al. JAMA Surg. Published online August 02, 2017.

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