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Opioid Users Get the Majority of Drugs from Doctors, Not Emergency Rooms

Drugs & Alcohol - Most Recent - News
Written by: on 17th January, 2018

Hospital emergency rooms around the U.S. have come under fire in recent years for prescribing high amounts of opioids to patients. But a new study shows that outpatient physicians are now the main sources of prescription opioids — especially for high-risk opioid users more likely to suffer dependence, addiction, or an overdose. This finding reveals that policymakers and healthcare providers may be targeting the wrong source when it comes to cutting down on opioid prescriptions.

Doctors Are the Main Sources of Opioids

Opioid Users

44% of opioid prescriptions come from outpatient physicians.

The number of total opioid prescriptions in the U.S. jumped by 471% from 1996 to 2012, according to the joint study published in the latest issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine. During that 17-year period, the number of opioids prescribed at ERs decreased from 7.4% to 4.4%. But at the same time, the number of opioids prescribed by doctors’ offices increased from 71% to 83%.

On average, only 16% of opioid prescriptions come from hospital ERs, while a staggering 44% of opioid prescriptions are coming from outpatient physicians. Plus, high-risk opioid users obtain only 2.4% of their opioids from ERs, but get 87.8% of their pill supplies from doctors’ offices. Over 80% of high-strength opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone also come from doctors’ offices.

While reducing opioid prescriptions in ER settings may be helping minimize the opioid epidemic, the study shows that outpatient doctors are the real main sources driving the epidemic. More must be done at the practice level to treat pain using non-addictive methods that don’t involve opioids.

Why ERs are Prescribing Fewer Opioids

Previous studies have shown that ER doctors are often three times more likely to prescribe opioids than other doctors. Opioids are commonly used in ERs to treat pain caused by injuries and accidents, as well as falls and fractures among the older adult population. Under the CDC’s revised opioid prescribing guidelines, ERs are to use opioids as a second-line treatment when other non-opioid pain relievers fail to work.

A recent study found that over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are just as effective at relieving pain in ERs as opioids. ERs are now using these and other non-opioid pain treatments in an effort to reduce opioid prescriptions. Data also shows that one in every five patients prescribed a 10-day supply of opioids become long-term users, and that eliminating opioids on the ER level has the potential to reduce this statistic.

How to Overcome an Opioid Addiction

More than two million Americans suffer from opioid addiction — many of whom obtain these pills from their doctors. Opioid addiction is often unintentional, and can even happen to those who use opioids for less than two weeks. The safest way to overcome opioid addiction is to undergo a medical detox at an opiate detox center to lower the risk for withdrawal-related complications.

A medical detox from opioid addiction often involves the use of medications like methadone and buprenorphine that provide relief from withdrawal symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, and insomnia. These medications are also used as part of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction — a long-term detox treatment that allows patients to slowly and gradually withdraw from opioids over the course of several weeks or months.

Detoxing from opioids at home is dangerous, and increases the risk for dehydration, relapse, and an overdose. But detoxing at a professional treatment center is safe and comfortable for most patients, and helps these individuals achieve lifelong sobriety from opioids.

If you need help fighting opioid addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193 to speak with an addiction specialist. We’ll discuss all your treatment options, and help you find the nearest opiate detox center ready to help you become healthier and sober.