Over Two-Thirds of Adults Report Unused Rx Opioids After Surgery — Physician’s First Watch

Medical News |
August 3, 2017

Over Two-Thirds of Adults Report Unused Rx Opioids After Surgery

By Amy Orciari Herman

Edited by Susan Sadoughi, MD, and Richard Saitz, MD, MPH, FACP, DFASAM

Prescription opioids often go unused after surgery, with few patients planning to dispose of the unused pills, according to a review in JAMA Surgery.

Researchers analyzed data from six studies that examined the oversupply of prescription opioids after seven types of surgical procedures (e.g., obstetric, thoracic, urologic). Overall, roughly 800 adults received an opioid prescription after surgery. Among the findings:

  • Some 67% to 92% of patients across the studies reported unused opioids.

  • Up to 21% did not fill their opioid prescription, and up to 14% filled the prescription but did not take any of the pills — most often because of adequate pain control.

  • Three-quarters of patients stored their opioids in unlocked areas.

  • Just 4–30% of patients intended to dispose of their unused pills.

The researchers caution, "The combination of unused opioids, poor storage practices, and lack of disposal sets the stage for the diversion of opioids for nonmedical use."

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