A new study highlights that adults are not the only victims of the growing
opioid epidemic. It found that pain medications prescribed after common
surgeries may become a pathway to continued, nonmedical opioid use by
teens and young adults.
Prior research has confirmed that many adults become addicted to using
opioids after surgery. This is the first study to reveal that long-term
opioid use may also be a significant risk for adolescents and young adults
who undergo common surgical procedures.
"Opioids are commonly prescribed for pain after surgery, and until
recently it was generally believed they were not addictive," said
lead abstract author Calista Harbaugh, M.D., a general surgery resident
at the University of Michigan Medical School and pediatric surgery researcher
at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and the Michigan Opioid Engagement Network.
detailed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers examined data including nearly 90,000 privately insured U.S.
patients between ages 13 and 21 (average age 17) with no previous opioid
prescriptions who underwent one of 13 common surgeries for this age group.
They looked for persistent opioid use, defined as continued prescription
refills 90 to 180 days after the surgical procedure and beyond what is
expected after routine surgery.
Their analysis revealed that the incidence of new persistent opioid use
following surgery was 4.8 percent, ranging from 2.7 percent to 15.2 percent
across procedures. By comparison, the incidence for the nonoperative control
group was just 0.1 percent.
The risk of opioid addiction was highest after gallbladder removal and
colon surgery. The researchers also found older youth with additional
chronic conditions, depression, anxiety, or prior substance use disorders
were at greater risk.
The study suggests that
doctors should consider the risk of addiction when weighing the benefits and risks of prescribing opioids to manage
pain. Harbaugh agreed. "We need to make sure that we treat pain after
surgery, but it must be balanced with the risk of providing more opioid
than necessary to patients and their communities," she said.
If you have questions about negligent prescription, our San Diego medical
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