Compared to middle-aged men, middle-aged women are more likely to develop opioid addiction because they are prescribed twice as many. Among women, those aged 40 to 59 also have the highest death rate from opiates, according to a report released Tuesday by the research firm QuintilesIMS Institute. It claims that surgery significantly increases the risk for overprescribed opioids, which potentially leads to misuse.

About 3.3 billion extra pills become available for abuse as a consequence of opioid overprescription following surgeries, states the report, which was sponsored by Pacira Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and titled “United States for Non-Dependence: An Analysis of the Impact of Opioid Overprescribing in America.”

Image credit: Thinkstock /
Image credit: Thinkstock /

Data collected from 600 private hospitals and nearly 80,000 patients revealed that roughly 3 million patients who underwent surgery in 2016 continued taking pills well after their postsurgical recovery period had been completed. After their initial intake of the drugs following surgery, they continued to take the opioids for three to six months, which means that 1 out of 10 patients transitioned to long-term exposure to the medication last year.

The findings confirm President Trump’s declarations about the opioid epidemic causing a “national emergency.”

“More people die from prescription opioid overdose than from heroin overdose per year,” as told to ABC News by Dr. Jennifer Holder-Murray, co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Enhanced Recovery After Surgery Program.

A woman’s testimony

Surgeons performed a routine operation to remove cysts from Kristina Crews Miller’s ovaries. That procedure led her to opioid addiction, and it wasn’t until her first day at work following her surgery that the Florida mother realized she had taken too much Oxycontin. She told ABC News that she started feeling nauseous and dizzy within two hours. She was weak and sweating as a consequence of her addiction.

Crews Miller had followed her doctor’s advice and trusted his prescriptions, which caused her two overdoses in front of her three children. She said she had grown up thinking she would never do street drugs or alcohol abuse but she still became an addict just because she thought Oxycontin prescriptions coming from a doctor could not cause her harm.

The mother of three has now recovered from her addiction and is dedicated to raising awareness so that people stop dying from overprescribed opioids.

“Its time to end the stigma, and stop being so judgmental and help, they’re sick, they’re not not human because they’re active in addiction,” she expressed, as quoted by ABC News.

Image credit: EmpowHer
Image credit: EmpowHer

Surgeries with the highest risk for opioid abuse

The report analyzed seven common surgeries and found that colectomy carried the highest risk for continued opioid use. About 18 percent of these patients continued taking opioids well beyond their postsurgical recovery period. A colectomy consists of the removal of part or all of the colon, and the intensity of the pain depends on how invasive the procedure is.

The bigger the incision, the more painful it is, as told to HuffPost by Dr. Eric Sun, an assistant professor anesthesiology, pain and perioperative medicine at Stanford University.
Total knee replacements were the second riskiest surgery. Dr. Sun, who wasn’t involved with the report, said these kind of procedures were very painful. The report revealed that 17 percent of those patients continued to take opioids after surgery.

On the other hand, surgeries for hernias and hysterectomies carried a 7 percent risk of long-term opioid use.

It can be challenging for doctors to prevent opioid addiction given that many patients tend to suffer from intense post-operation pain and desperately need something to relieve it. There are other alternatives, but opioids are more frequently prescribed when pain is more severe.

Dr. Sun last year conducted a study that examined long-term opioid use after 11 common surgeries, excluding colectomy. Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the research found that patients undergoing total knee replacement and open gallbladder surgery were at the highest risk for opioid use after their postsurgical recovery period. These patients were most likely to fill at least ten prescriptions or receive a supply for 120 days within a year of the procedure. The results apply only to patients who hadn’t used the drugs before surgery.

Compared to the most recent research published today, Sun’s study found that senior men comprised the most vulnerable group.

The opioid epidemic hinders the American economy

According to The National Safety Council, 29 percent of employers reported undermined job performance as a consequence of prescription-opioid use, while 70 percent admitted that the opioid crisis had affected their workforce.

When someone gets tested for opioid misuse and results positive or simply gets caught, employers often have to fire employees who had had a perfect performance and ended up wasting money to train workers who probably will not stick around.

The share of working-age citizens in the labor market decreased more than four percentage points since 2000 and is stuck at 63 percent, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. The opioid crisis started exactly at the beginning of the century.

Source: ABC News