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Doctors Play A Role In The Opioid Addiction Epidemic

By now, most people in health care are well aware of the 16,000 or more deaths that result from opioid drugs in the U.S. each year. Many are also cognizant of the fact that opioids are generally ineffective for chronic pain, and many times actually make the pain worse through opioid induced hyperalgesia.

This study out of the Mayo Clinic and led by pain specialist Dr. W. Michael Hooten, set out to better understand was more related to the percentage of people who obtain short-term opioid prescriptions for acute pain from their physician yet continue to take them long term or become addicted to the drugs.

The study analyzed medical claims for 293 patients who were given opioids for acute pain relief related to musculoskeletal injuries such as sprained ankles, or following more invasive surgical events such as appendectomies or shoulder arthroscopies. Naturally, the prescribing physician anticipated only a short duration of narcotic therapy following any of these events.

They found that 1 in 4 of the patients given short-term painkillers for an acute source of pain were still taking them beyond 90 days. This result aligns very well with findings from previous large studies that showed 30 days to be a threshold after which most patients continue the drugs for at least the following 3 years, at which point the study quit aggregating data.

Another interesting finding, yet one documented in other research as well, was that the patients who continued on opioids for 90 days were 2-3 times more likely to have issues with other types of addiction including tobacco abuse. This is a fairly strong indicator that the patient’s transition to long-term use was an addictive type behavior more so than pain related.

Through advanced analytics and machine learning protocols, axialHealthcare has been aware of these relationships and others for quite some time. Though, the real key is in the solutions we offer to avoid this type of morbidity and mortality for those in pain.

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