A new study published in the journal Surgery has found that patients recovering from hernia procedures may require far fewer opioids to manage their pain than they are often prescribed. Some data indicates that patients are frequently given up to 30 pills after such procedures, the majority of which are unnecessary and could lead to them becoming addicted to opioids.
The study, helmed by Dr. Peter Masiakos of Massachusetts General Hospital, followed 186 patients who were prescribed 10 Vicodin pills each after they elected to have an inguinal hernia procedure. A startling 86% used less than half of that amount, and nearly two-thirds used none at all. Patients were instead encouraged to use acetaminophen and ibuprofen as primary options for managing their pain.
The study’s findings have been the catalyst to a host of changes at Massachusetts General that suggest a more individualized approach is necessary to avoid the diversion of so many highly addictive opioids into opportunities for misuse. Dr. Masiakos stated that “we may still be prescribing more medication than is needed,” despite increased effort to be more conscientious of the opioid crisis. That would appear to be an understatement, with a recent government study finding that more than one-third of U.S. adults were prescribed an opioid in 2015 alone.
St. Joseph’s Medical Center in New York also recently re-prioritized its pain management protocols in an attempt to stifle the vicious cycle of addiction that opioids have been fueling across the country. Once addicted, a patient faces a grueling and dangerous withdrawal. And, in some cases, rather than enduring that painful period, some will instead turn to heroin. The drug is cheaper and easier to obtain than a prescription narcotic and overdoses and subsequent deaths have spiked as a result.
The FDA could likely make a more significant national impact in fighting the opioid crisis with new regulations. While the agency has acknowledged the national opioid epidemic, its responses to the problem have been puzzling at best. Last year it enhanced warnings for certain drugs like OxyContin, but in 2015 moved to approve OxyContin for use in children as young as eleven.
The opioid epidemic strengthens its grasp on Americans throughout the country with each failure of the government to react to it. In the meantime, millions are left with few resources to fight an addiction that is ruining their lives and wreaking untold devastation on their families.