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Chronic Opioid Use Can Arise in Matter of Days Following First Prescription


Americans are increasingly becoming hooked on opioids.  New evidence suggests that doctors should be wary when first prescribing these powerful painkillers as it may not take long at all for patient addiction to take hold.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30,000 people in the United States suffered fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2015.  That’s a record number and evidence suggests that opioid addiction continues to grow.

The CDC recently released the findings of a 10-year research effort into opioid use.  The takeaway headline is that patients who are prescribed opioid painkillers for the first time can become chronic users in just a matter of days.

The research included records of more than 1.2 million patients who were given their first opioid prescription between 2006 and 2015.  The patients all were cancer free.  The opioids were prescribed to manage short-term pain from such conditions as headaches, surgery and broken bones.  About seven out of every 10 patients had an opioid prescription lasting less than a week.

After 31 Day Prescription, 30 Percent of Patients Still Using Opioids Year Later

Six percent of the patients with a first-time, one-day opioid prescription were found to be using opioids one year later.  However, that rate more than doubled – to 13.5 percent of the patients –when they were initially prescribed at least an eight-day supply of the painkillers. And nearly 30 percent of patients whose first prescription was for at least 31 days were still on opioids a year later.

The CDC found that a patient’s chances to be a chronic opioid user climbed each day beginning on the third day of the initial prescription.  The biggest jumps occurred after the fifth day of an opioid prescription and after the 31st day.  Those receiving a refill opioid prescription or a cumulative dose of 700 morphine milligrams were also at an increased risk for much longer reliance on the drug.  And of those prescribed a long-lasting opioid, about 27 percent were using a year later and about 20 percent three years following the initial prescription.

Health Problems and Opioid Abuse

Long-term opioid abuse can lead to liver and brain damage, as well as death.  Opioids are effective in treating pain, but healthcare providers – doctors and pharmacists – need to be mindful of unnecessarily putting patients at risk for suffering any new chronic physical and mental harm that may arise.

Physicians should know well the addictive risks of opioids and other prescription painkillers.  A medication error when prescribing opioids, therefore, can be as inexcusable as other types of serious and potentially deadly medical mistakes, such as a misdiagnosis or surgical error.

If you believe you or a loved one were over-prescribed opioids and experienced devastating health consequences as a result, consult a medical malpractice attorney to investigate the details of your case.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.

Authored by: Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C. posted in Articles March 28, 2017