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Overprescribing opioids

August 2, 2017
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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After a hip replacement or other surgery, physicians often prescribe opioid pain pills for patients to take home. But it turns out that most patients don’t take the entire course of medication and some don’t use them at all, says a JAMA study.

Researchers reviewed six different studies about opioid medication use among a total of 810  patients who had surgery. Across the six studies, 67 to 92 percent of patients reported leftover or unused opioids. Most patients stopped taking the medications early or were able to manage their pain without them, results showed.

Storage also is a contributing problem: In two studies that specifically addressed medication storage, about three-quarters of respondents said they didn’t store opioids in a locked container.

Where do those extra pills go? Too often they fuel the opioid crisis by encouraging reliance on pain medication beyond the original intended scope of the treatment, the authors say. They also can end up in the wrong hands—stolen by dishonest employees, secreted away by other residents and even nabbed by family members.

“Postoperative prescription opioids often go unused, unlocked, and undisposed, suggesting an important reservoir of opioids contributing to nonmedical use of these products, which could cause injuries or even deaths.”

In light of the research, skilled nursing teams should be diligent about collecting and properly disposing of any unused medications and should communicate frequently with physicians and consultant pharmacists to reasses pain medication needs when a resident has surgery or post-surgical rehabilitation therapy.

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