Can Changing The Way Opioids Are Delivered Reduce Addiction?

By Beth Leipholtz 05/21/18

For a recent study, researchers tested a new prescribing standard to figure out how opioids can be used more safely and effectively.

Female surgeon adjusting iv drip

Two new findings could play major roles in pushing back against the opioid crisis, according to a pilot study conducted by Yale researchers and published in JAMA Internal Medicine

The study states that cutting down doses of opioids given to hospital patients while also delivering medication with a shot or pill (rather than an IV) was found to ”decrease patients' exposure to opioids while improving pain relief,” Becker’s Hospital Review states. 

The researchers, according to Yale, say these findings could lead to important changes in how physicians approach opioids. 

For hospital patients struggling with pain, physicians usually administer prescription opioids via IV, shot or pill, Yale states. According to researchers, the IV method has a greater likelihood of side effects, as opioids given intravenously reach the central nervous system quickly.

Researchers also state that it has been proven that giving just one dose of opioids via IV can “cause changes in the brain that are associated with aåçddiction.”

During this study, researchers created an intervention to test a new opioid-prescribing standard using non-IV methods. The study involved a few hundred patients in hospitals, as well as educating medical personnel.

Over the duration of three months, researchers kept track of daily IV doses, non-IV doses and overall doses per patient. Additionally, Yale states, they monitored pain scores during a patient’s first five days in the hospital.

In comparing results with a control group, the researchers discovered that there was an 84% decrease in IV opioid dosing for the intervention group. Yale also states that researchers found that in the intervention group, pain scores were similar or had improved. 

Adam Ackerman, lead author and clinical instructor in internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, says these results could potentially be “practice changing.”

Robert Fogerty, co-author and associate professor of medicine Yale School of Medicine, agrees. 

“The data shows that the non-IV use of opioids can reduce overall opioid use in adult inpatients with no change in pain control, and potentially an improvement,” he said, according to Yale. “It’s an example of less is more.”

Fogerty also states that the results of the study could help shift how opioids are prescribed and administered in hospital settings. 

“As physicians, we’re obligated to provide help to the community. Part of that service is thinking analytically about how, when, and why we use opioids. The data show there are opportunities to improve the way we control pain and the way we impact the opioid crisis,” Fogerty said.

Patrick O’Connor, co-author and the Dan Adams and Amanda Adams Professor of General Medicine and chief of general internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, says the method could also help in decreasing overdoses and fatalities related to opioids. 

“This study represents an important piece of the puzzle in terms of how opioids can be used more safely and effectively in clinical practice,” he said. “It also represents a critical strategy for reducing the potential risk of opioid-related complications, including overdose and death.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.