Some New Hampshire Surgeons Continue To Overprescribe Opioids, Study Says

By McCarton Ackerman 09/21/16

Patients that took part in the study revealed that they only took about a third of the pills they were prescribed.

Some New Hampshire Surgeons Continue To Overprescribe Opioids, Study Says

Despite the increasing number of opioid overdoses in the U.S., new findings show that some surgeons are ignoring the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it comes to prescribing these powerful drugs.

In 2014, 18,893 overdose deaths were attributed to opioid painkillers. Part of this spike is due to the fact that doctors have become trigger-happy with opioid prescriptions. CDC data showed that doctors wrote 82.5 prescriptions per 100 people in 2012, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle, according to a new report by Quartz. In response, the CDC issued new guidelines this year for doctors regarding painkillers, advising they cut back on prescribing them.

But this advice has not been adhered to, according to a new study from doctors at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. Researchers collected post-op data from 642 patients that underwent gallbladder removal, partial breast removal and hernia repair. The patients revealed that doctors prescribed them opioid painkillers after 581 of the surgeries, or more than 90%.

In later interviews with 127 patients, it was revealed they only took 29% of the medication prescribed to them.

Researchers noted that “providers also want to make sure that the pain patients experience from surgery is minimized, so they prescribe enough to satisfy the patient who requires the most opioids.” However, they also pointed out these findings were from one hospital and may not be reflective of what is occurring across the country. The scientists also said that more invasive procedures than the ones these patients underwent might require even more medication in order to recover comfortably.

But for many medical experts, the issue is less about the drugs themselves and more about the expectation from patients that doctors will prescribe them with few or no questions asked.

“We live in a culture in which the expectation is that we can 'fix' everything,” said Jane C. Ballantyne, MD, FRCA, Professor of Education and Research in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the University of Washington, exclusively to The Fix in January 2013. “It’s hard for physicians to say ‘no’ when patients demand opioids for pain because both patients and physicians have come to believe that opioids offer a solution."

Ballantyne said that doctors need to begin suggesting a variety of natural pain relief treatments, including acupuncture, yoga, Tai Chi and even psychological treatments.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.