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Study: Surgery patients only take a quarter of opioids prescribed to them

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flickr/Charles Williams
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Patients who are prescribed opioids for post-surgical pain only use a quarter of their prescriptions on average, according to a new study.

The study from the University of Michigan looked at 2,392 surgical patients across 33 of the state's health systems.

Each patient underwent one of 12 common surgeries, such as hernia repair, appendectomy and hysterectomy.

The study found that patients used only 27% of the opioids they were prescribed for post-operative pain.

“It’s striking to see the major discrepancy between prescribed amount and the amount patients actually take,” says one of the study's authors, Joceline Vu, in a press release. “This is not a phenomenon of a few outlier surgeons – it was seen across the state, and across many operations.”

Researchers also found that amount of an opioid prescribed to a patient had an effect on the amount they used. The larger the amount of pills prescribed, the more a patient was likely to use.

“In what we tell patients about what kind of pain to expect after surgery, and how many pills we give, we set their expectations -- and what the patient expects plays a huge role in their post-operative pain experience. So if they get 60 pain pills, they think they have to take many of them,” says study author Ryan Howard.

Researchers looked at patients who had surgery between January 1, 2017 and September 30, 2017. That was before Michigan's new law for prescribing opioids went into effect this past summer.

Under the law, doctors can't prescribe patients with acute pain more than a seven day supply within a seven day period.

Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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