Some people who become addicted to opioid pain relievers begin taking the drugs out of need after painful surgeries and over-prescribing doctors.
The combination of surgeries and the prescriptions for opioids handed out by doctors to their patients in 2016 led to a surplus of 3.3 billion unused pills — a likely factor in the current American opioid epidemic, according to a report released this week by the research firm QuintilesIMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
And some surgeries carry a bigger risk for eventual opioid addiction than others. Colectomy was the most dangerous with 18% of patients becoming long-term users, according to the report. A close second was the 17% of knee replacement patients who took the drugs. Hernia and hysterectomy surgeries showed to be lower-risk with about a 7% risk of misuse each. Women, overall, showed to be particularly vulnerable.
The report noted that almost three million Americans took opioids they were prescribed at least three to six months after their first dose post-surgery. That’s one in 10 post-operative patients.
“The bigger the incision, the more painful something ought to be,” anesthesiologist Dr. Eric Sun told HuffPost about the colectomy — a procedure that entails the partial or complete removal of the colon, an often invasive surgery. He also said that “knee surgeries tend to be very painful,” and that “people complain about those.”
A study from last year, published in Jama Internal Medicine, backs up the latest data. It defined chronic opioid users as those who fill 10 or more prescriptions after a few months have passed since their surgeries. The study did not analyze colectomies but saw that knee replacement and open gallbladder surgical patients had the highest risk for developing opioid addictions.
Some may blame doctors as the root cause of addiction through excessive prescription-writing, but post-op pain is real and doctors are required by law to compassionately treat their patients for their pain.
“There’s a lot of other things you can give that can help, but at the end of the day, if someone is in a lot of pain, opioids are part of the mainstay,” Sun said.
“That’s sort of the next phase in all this research,” he said. “We know there’s a problem. The question is: What do you do about it? How do you keep these people from transitioning to long-term use?”