Although some people do not have any sympathy for those unfortunate souls swallowed up by the drooling jowls of drug addiction, a new study suggests that the opioid epidemic currently transforming the nation into a legion of pill-popping fiends is not necessarily due to an insatiable lust for getting high. Rather, the study concluded it is the healthcare industry’s fault that so many patients end up hooked on addictive medications because doctors are overprescribing these drugs as part of post-surgical pain management.
Opioids and Post-Surgical Pain Management
According to a report published this week by the research firm QuintilesMS Institute, the prescription-slinging madmen of the surgical industry created a surplus of about 3.3 billion unused pain pills in 2016.
Experts now suspect that a hefty portion of these idle medications played a role in the increased opioid use among surgery patients (and possibly even their family members), leading to a gluttonous appetite for the warm and fuzzy feel goods, which, in some cases, translated to hardcore drug addiction.
The report found that millions of patients stumbled into opioid addiction while recovering from common surgeries. It seems that the healthcare industry’s tendency to overprescribe opioids to help post-surgical pain management has prompted some patients to keep choking down pain pills for up to six months after they were handed their initial prescription.
All in, three million people became reliant on opioid medications last year because of this practice. That means that 1 out of every 10 patients emerged from surgery with a monkey on their backs. Some of the most common surgeries that the report shows can be a prequel to an opioid addiction are colectomy, knee replacements, hernias and hysterectomies.
Medical experts say that the size of the incision is a relatively good indicator of what types of operations carry the biggest risk of opioid addiction. It stands to reason that a surgery requiring a larger cut will bring about more pain, creating a need for stronger medications.
“We know that the majority of opioid addictions start with prescription medications, so it is critical to fight the opioid epidemic by minimizing exposure to these drugs, especially to vulnerable patient populations,” said Paul Sethi, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS) and President of the ONS Foundation for Clinical Research and Education.
“Combating this problem requires a multi-factorial approach—clinicians need to be more vigilant with their prescribing, patients should feel empowered to speak candidly with their doctor and take ownership of their postsurgical pain management experience and effective non-opioid medications should be routinely incorporated into postsurgical analgesic regimens.”
Medical Cannabis as an Alternative to Opioids
But what can patients use an alternative to addictive opioid painkillers? There is a growing body of evidence that suggests medical marijuana could be used in place of these dangerous drugs.
There is some concern, however, that the herb simply does not have the power to cut through the gnashing teeth of post-surgical pain. Yet, it is distinctly possible that opioid medications could be replaced with medical marijuana shortly after surgery in order to prevent patients from entering into the realm of dependence.
Unfortunately, until the federal government removes some of the restrictions associated with marijuana research, this level of therapy is not likely to gain much traction. As it stands, the cannabis plant, which has been scientifically proven to be safer than opioids, is still considered one of the most dangerous drugs in the world.
Cannabis is still classified in the same ranks as heroin, a drug that, incidentally, is doled out on a daily basis in a synthetic form to patients immediately following surgery. It’s a prescription drug called Oxycodone. Some of the latest federal data shows that around 64,000 people died in 2016 as a result of an overdose from these types of drugs.