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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Overdose Survivors Are Still Prescribed Opioids

In the late 1990s doctors began prescribing opioid painkillers at an unprecedented rate, which was the result of policy changes regarding the treatment of chronic pain. While many people's pain was being adequately managed, the upsurge in prescribing brought addiction and overdoses in its wake. You may think that when a patient overdoses on the prescription opioids and survives that their doctor would attempt to manage their pain differently - it would seem logical. But you would be incorrect with that line of thinking.

In fact, new research suggests that over ninety percent of patients hospitalized for an overdose, continue to be written prescriptions for opioids after the event, CBS News reports. The findings come from an analysis of a large commercial insurance claims database, which includes information on 50 million people. The researchers looked at 12-year period.

"I was surprised. I thought we'd see a number that was shocking but this is more than we thought," said lead author Dr. Marc LaRochelle, an attending physician in the department of General Internal Medicine at Boston Medical Center, and assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. 

The researchers found that seventy percent of patients who survived an opioid overdose continued to be written prescriptions from the same physician who prescribed the opioids they overdosed on, according to the article. It could be easy to hold doctors at fault for continuing to prescribe; however, most overdose cases are not reported to the doctor who prescribed the drug. The burden falls on the health care system and lack of communication.

"We need to do something at a policy level and a system level to make sure information is being communicated and better tools are developed to identify and intervene on patients who have risky use and are at high risk for having problems,” said LaRochelle. 

The findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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