Most patients going home with opioid painkillers after orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins University didn’t use all the pills they were given, suggesting that these medications are routinely overprescribed, a researcher said here.
Among 93 patients interviewed during the succeeding 4 weeks after discharge, 85% of those who had stopped taking the drugs still had them in the cabinet, said Mark Bicket, MD, of Hopkins’ division of pain medicine in Baltimore.
And many of the patients had large numbers of tablets remaining: 28% had 20 or more pills still in their possession, and 24% retained doses at least 200 morphine-equivalent.
Bicket presented the findings at the American Pain Society’s annual meeting.
Nearly 20% of the patients were no longer taking the opioids when interviewed on the 2nd day after discharge; a little less than half had stopped at the 2-week mark.
About 10% of the patients had 80 or more unused pills after stopping, Bicket said.
The upshot, he said, is that more research is needed on determining how much painkiller medication patients are really likely to need after orthopedic surgery — and the results need to be conveyed to surgeons, who do most of the prescribing.
He said surgeons currently have little to go on, and so they tend to be liberal in prescribing in order to minimize complaints about inadequate pain control during recovery.
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