Among surgical patients who are prescribed opioid painkillers, the likelihood of developing an addiction is much more dependent on the number of refills than the strength of the medicine, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.
The study looked at more than half a million surgical patients who had been prescribed opioids. It found that the likelihood of developing an addiction increased by about 20% for each week that the patients took a drug. However, patients who took high dosages of the drug were not significantly more likely to develop an addiction than patients who were given a lesser strength, the study found.
The study appears to contradict earlier research suggesting that the strength of a medication is an important factor in addiction potential. However, those earlier studies tended to focus on patients with chronic pain who were prescribed opioids over a long period of time. This study was different in that it focused on typical surgical patients who simply needed pain medication during recovery from an operation.