Surgery patients are usually prescribed opioids to ease postoperative aching, but more than two-thirds end up with leftover narcotics and don’t get rid of them, according to a new report.
Moreover, most patients who have the extra opioid pills don’t lock them away, but leave them accessible to possible abuse by others, the researchers said.
“We were surprised to find that the number was as high as it was,” said lead researcher Dr. Mark Bicket. He is an assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
“It’s likely that we — as physicians who care for patients after surgery — need to do a better job of educating patients about how to take opioid medication, how to store that medication and what to do with it once they’re done with the medication,” Bicket added.
Saving unneeded narcotic pills for a rainy day when you might be aching may be adding to the nation’s opioid epidemic, the study authors suggested.
That’s because unused narcotics may end up in the hands of people who misuse or sell them, said Dr. Gary Deutsch. He is a surgical oncologist at Northwell Health Cancer Institute in Lake Success, N.Y. Deutsch was not involved with the new study, but was familiar with the findings.
The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly 4 million Americans took opioids (such as Oxycontin or Percocet) for non-medical reasons every month.
More than 2 million people in the United States are addicted to prescription medicines, according to federal reports.