Health & Wellness

Overprescribing Is Part of the Opioid Crisis

Recent study results suggest that patients don’t need all the pain pills doctors prescribe after surgery.

By Katrina Caruso


Doctors in the United States are required to prescribe surgery patients opioids for pain, but it would seem that in many cases, the dosage is unnecessarily high and can create a danger, leading to addiction or contributing to the supply of opioids available to addicts.

In December 2017, a study was published in the journal JAMA Surgery on the highly addictive prescription drugs and their impact on patients’ pain following surgery. From January 2015 to June 2016, researchers followed 170 patients who had undergone gallbladder operations. On average, patients went home with a prescription for 250 mg of opioids, with 40 pills per prescription, but they ended up using only 30 mg of the medication, often choosing to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) instead.

Researchers then followed another 200 gallbladder surgery patients who were given reduced dosages—75 mg of opioids, 15 pills per prescription, along with acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed. These patients, too, took less than the full prescription (only 20 mg on average) of opioids.

Despite requiring less opioid pain medication than they had been prescribed, both groups reported pain scores of 5 on a scale of 10.

The conclusion of the study was that while doctors prescribe a high number of pills with a high dosage, on average, most patients don’t require the full amount of the prescription to manage their pain—which leaves a lot of pills lying around. Furthermore, a co-author of the study, Dr. Michael Eglesbe, reported that 6% of patients become chronic opioid users.

While the study is American, Canada’s guidelines are the same in terms of maximum dosages. According to The Globe and Mail, doctors prescribed opioids for one out of every two Canadians in 2015. Canada is the No. 2 consumer of the addictive drugs worldwide.

Photo: iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros.