One of the causes of the current opioid problem may be that surgery patients are prescribed too many painkillers – resulting in leftover drugs that can fall into the wrong hands.
The extent of the “leftover pills” problem was recently highlighted in an article in JAMA Surgery that compared six previous studies involving more than 800 surgery patients with opioid prescriptions. The article found that:
- Between 67% and 92% of patients said they had leftover opioids after surgery.
- Between 42% and 71% of dispensed opioid pills were never taken by the patient.
- Some 7% to 14% of the patients filled their prescription, but never took any pills. (About one-fifth of patients were prescribed pills but never filled the prescription.)
- 77% of patients kept their unused opioids in an unlocked, unsecured location.
- Fewer than 30% of patients with unused opioids disposed of them properly or said they planned to. A very large number simply kept them on hand.
The lead author of the study, Professor Mark Bicket of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, comments: "If we can better tailor the amount of opioids prescribed to the needs of patients, we can ensure patients receive appropriate pain control after surgery yet reduce the number of extra oxycodone and other opioid tablets in many homes that are just waiting to be lost, sold, taken by error, or accidentally discovered by a child."