Study: Surgeons continue overprescribing opioids in spite of CDC warnings

Residency Program Insider, July 1, 2019

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According to a recent analysis of Medicare data by Kaiser Health News and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, many surgeons consistently overprescribe opioids for postoperative pain, regardless of CDC warnings and recommendations from academic medical centers. The study looked at almost 350,000 prescriptions written by nearly 20,000 surgeons between 2011 and 2016.

For example, several academic medical centers recommend 0-10 pills for many of the procedures performed by surgeons in the analysis; however, some surgeons wrote prescriptions for more than 100 pills. In instances where academic medical centers recommended up to 30 pills for patients who underwent coronary bypass surgery, the highest-prescribing 1% averaged more than 105 pills. These numbers may indicate that opioid manufacturers are not the only major contributors to the opioid crisis—physicians appear to play a significant role, too.

Patients in the study had not been prescribed opioids in the year before their operation, and research shows that many people become addicted to opioids through a prescription provided after a surgical procedure; in fact, up to 6% of patients prescribed opioids after surgery become dependent and are still taking them six months later.

When contacted by Kaiser Health News, many of the highest-prescribing surgeons in the 2016 databank declined to comment. Other contacted surgeons pointed out that the study does not account for complications that may require higher prescriptions of painkillers. Additionally, they pointed to settings in computer prescribing programs that default to preset amounts when a prescription is written.

Source: Kaiser Health News

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