Painkiller addiction risk common after surgery

Image 1 of 3

Chronic use of prescription pain medications is increasing in the United States and, in some cases, it turns into a prescription addiction. A new study looks at the painkiller risk patients face after surgery.

Each day, thousands of surgeries are performed across the country.

"It's pretty normal to get a pain killer after you, after you go home from your surgery and during your surgery," says Dr. Eric Sun. What's not normal is to still be taking those pain medications many months after surgery
Dr. Eric Sun and his colleagues at the Stanford University School of Medicine reviewed the records of more than 641,000 patients who were not taking pain medication during the year prior to surgery.

They had one of 112 common operations, including joint replacements, gall bladder removal and C-sections during a 12-year-period. 

"We wanted to see at the year out after their surgery, were they at increased risk of using opioids chronically compared to patients who didn't get surgery. Some opioid use is to be expected shortly after surgery, so we did exclude the first 90 days following their surgery," Dr. Sun explains.

Chronic use was defined as filling at least 10 prescriptions or more than 120 days' worth of opioids during the first year after surgery.
The study appears in JAMA Internal Medicine

"Patients who didn't use opioid prior to surgery were at an increased risk for chronic opioid use following their surgery. The risks range from about one and a half to five times depending on the surgery," Dr. Sun says. "Overall, the risk is pretty low, it was about less than one percent for most of the surgeries we looked at."

Men and older patients were at an increased risk of chronic opioid use, along with patients with a history of certain medical conditions.
"Patients who use benzodiazepines, that's a fairly common drug people use for anxieties and also patients with a history of drug abuse and alcohol abuse are at high risk for chronic opioid use following their surgery," Dr. Sun says. 

Dr. Sun says physicians should be aware of this risk even though the overall risk is  small

"Physicians should closely monitor their surgical patients to see how much opioid they are or aren't taking, and just be aware that they may be at high risk for using opioids chronically," he says.