A series of three successive studies recently published in the journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology suggest that women are drastically over-prescribed dangerous opioids after C-sections. The studies build off each other to provide a complete picture of how women’s pain is less carefully regarded throughout the medical process than that of men.
In one of the studies, 720 C-section patients were followed after giving birth from six different facilities in the US. About 85 percent filled an opioid prescription after leaving the hospital and were often prescribed double the number necessary. On average, each patient had 15 pills left at the end of their course of medication. With 1.3 million C-section procedures in the US annually, that could leave an additional 20 million opioids potentially available for misuse each year.
C-sections are the most common in-patient procedure performed in the country. Yet, somehow, little data exists on proper pain management for a woman recovering from one. There is also no standard number of opioids to prescribe a woman after a C-section, and the amount is all but guaranteed to vary between healthcare providers.
Women who were prescribed more opioids were also found to be more likely to use them, thus exposing those women to additional and unnecessary danger. The drugs are so highly addictive that they recently received even stronger labels warning of the dangers associated with their use.
When the women were provided even a tiny bit more consideration — just a 10 minute postoperative meeting with a clinician — opioid prescriptions were curbed by 50 percent. The meeting provided a brief presentation on a tablet where the women could learn how much pain to expect, the pros and cons of opioids versus non-opioids, and other safety measures. Then they chose how many opioid pills to receive. An overwhelming majority “called the shared decision making helpful,” but this is far from standard practice.
The lack of attention paid to women’s issues in the medical community isn’t new. In the summer of 2016, Northwestern University conducted a study that concluded the FDA had essentially failed to protect women from poorly designed medical devices. Of 18 devices approved by the agency — which is in charge of overseeing the safety of the food, drugs, and medical devices we access on a daily basis — only six still remained on the market. Three were removed from the market entirely.
We also know that women’s pain in emergency rooms gets dismissed and that they’ll wait for treatment, on average, 15 minutes more than men with the same ailment. When the solution to potentially life-altering pain or danger is only a short conversation or a few steps away, no one should be subjected to neglect that could keep them from living a healthy and fulfilling life.