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Surgeons Prove that Prescribing Fewer Painkillers Can Curb Addiction & Opioid Crisis

Painkillers are commonly prescribed as part of surgery aftercare to reduce severe postoperative pain in patients. But a new study conducted by surgeons at University of Michigan has found that patients who take fewer painkillers at lower doses fare just as well with recovery and postoperative pain than patients prescribed higher doses. The study supports previous findings that indicate U.S. doctors are continuing to overprescribe painkillers to their patients — driving nationwide addiction and overdose rates.

Researchers Test Painkiller Theory on Gallbladder Patients

Opioid Crisis

Research shows that patients fare just as well with lower doses of opioids post-surgery.

Along with colectomy and knee replacement surgery, gallbladder surgery has been found to carry a higher risk for postoperative painkiller addiction compared to most other surgeries. For the study, researchers at UM followed 170 gallbladder surgery patients for one year following their operations. They tracked the amount of pills used by each patient, the level of pain following surgery, and whether patients used other pain treatments such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Using this data, the surgeons at UM created new hospital guidelines aimed at cutting back on all painkillers used as part of surgery aftercare. Under the new guidelines, surgery patients at UM received an average of 75 mg of oxycodone or hydrocodone, versus the previous average dose of 250 mg. Researchers then followed another 200 gallbladder surgery patients to determine whether lower doses of opioids were sufficient and effective at treating postoperative pain.

UM researchers found that despite receiving lower doses of painkillers, patients did not report high levels of pain, and were more likely to use fewer pain pills during recovery. Additionally, patients were no more likely to ask for refills than those involved in the first round of research who used higher doses. At the end of the study, UM ended up prescribing 13,000 fewer pain pills than the previous year.

Painkiller Addiction After Surgery is Common in the U.S.

The overprescribing of opioids for pain management is one of the leading causes of the U.S. opioid epidemic. Other research shows that up to 92 percent of surgery patients end up with unused, leftover painkillers that are often stored in medicine cabinets — increasing the risk for prescription drug abuse among patients, their friends, and family members. The new UM study further proves that cutting back on painkiller doses and the number of prescriptions can help curb the opioid epidemic across the U.S.

In 2016 the CDC issued new opioid prescribing guidelines urging doctors to take a more careful approach when prescribing painkillers to their patients. UM surgeons have taken these guidelines to heart, and now encourage patients to use non-addictive painkillers first before turning to opioids. UM surgeons also warn their patients about the risks of painkiller addiction, and discuss the side effects of these powerful drugs before writing prescriptions.

Preventing and Treating Painkiller Abuse

Painkiller abuse after surgery is often unintentional, and is fueled by the overprescribing of opioids. But with the right education and knowledge, patients can prevent themselves from becoming addicted in the first place, and get help for painkiller abuse when needed.

Here are tips that can help you steer clear of painkiller dependence and addiction:

  • Ask your doctor about alternative pain treatments that carry a far lower risk for addiction.
  • Dispose of unused painkillers at a pharmacy, fire station, or other drug take-back locations.
  • Use painkillers exactly as directed, and avoid taking higher doses more frequently than directed.
  • Stop using painkillers when symptoms have cleared.
  • Work with your doctor on developing a tapering schedule to wean you off painkillers safely.
  • Get help at a drug detox center that offers opiate detox and therapy.

Painkiller and prescription drug abuse can be safely and successfully treated at drug detox centers that offer medical detox programs and medication-assisted treatment. These detox programs can help you stop using painkillers without cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and can lower the risk for complications associated with opiate withdrawal.

If you or someone you love needs help overcoming painkiller abuse, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193. Our caring drug abuse counselors will help you find free detox treatment and other therapies proven safe and effective for painkiller addiction.

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