According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the nation is facing an unprecedented opioid epidemic. And, the data is staggering. In recent years, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled though doctors continue to write new prescriptions for opiates – more than 650,000 each day.
Though, it is widely recognized that the use of prescription painkillers for pain management can often evolve into a full-blown addiction. As a result, the medical industry has become much more vigilant in overseeing opioid prescribing practices. In fact, many states have even formed their own prescription registries to prevent the practice of doctor shopping.
Most experts agree that prevention is one of the most powerful tools in the fight against the opioid epidemic and curtailing the practice of overprescribing is one of the most cost effective ways to address the epidemic.
And, a new study from the University of Virginia Health System explores yet another benefit of taking a more conservative approach to opioid access. It can actually help to mitigate pain sensitivity among patients.
Researchers reviewed the medical history information of 101,484 patients that had surgery between March 2011 and November 2015. During this same period, the health system as a whole reduced the number of opioids that were prescribed to surgical patients by 37 percent. In a somewhat surprising finding, patients’ pain scores actually improved by 31 percent – meaning that they experienced less pain.
The study’s primary author, Dr. Marcel Durieux, explained the practical applications of the opioid research. “There is very clear evidence that people can become opioid dependent because of the drugs they get during and after surgery. I think that by substantially limiting opioids during surgery, we’ve made an important step in addressing that problem.”
This study provides yet another reason why the medical community should more closely evaluate the use of prescription painkillers in pain management and pursue alternative (and less addictive forms) of therapies.
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