Watch Out: Over-prescribing opioids

According to a study in JAMA Surgery,  researchers reviewed several studies on post-operative pain and concluded that over 2/3 of post-surgery patients admitted to having unused narcotics at home that had been prescribed for their surgery, that they had used on average only about half the narcotic pills they had been prescribed (and since that’s an average, it means that many people used hardly any of the pills they had been prescribed), and that roughly 1/4 of those people didn’t actually have those narcotics properly stowed away, which can obviously lead to 2 huge problems afterwards: theft of the narcotics to resell on street, and potential accidents for kids who find that stash.

This is a study from the US but I’d bet that the same situation applies up here in Canada.

So here’s the big question to ask: If so many people don’t use or don’t need narcotics after they have surgery, why are so many surgeons over-prescribing narcotics for so many of their patients?

Why can’t surgeons do a (much) better job than they are clearly doing in determining what kind of patient following what kind of surgery needs a narcotic, and then making sure those particular patients get just enough of the medication they might need and not a whole lot of pills to just stash away for the future?

But that probably requires, I’m afraid, a different medical skill set and set-up than many surgeons currently possess.