According to a new study titled ‘Characteristics of Initial Prescription Episodes and Likelihood of Long-Term Opioid Use’, researchers found that about one in four patients prescribed opiates for less than two weeks still used the drug one year later, and nearly half of patients prescribed opiates for a month were still using the drug one year later.
The study looked at prescription data for approximately 1.3 million non-cancer patients prescribed opiates like OxyContin and Vicodin for the first time between 2006 and 2015. The researchers, Anuj Shah, Corey J. Hayes, PharmD, and Bradley C. Martin, PharmD, PhD, used the data to decipher which patients were prescribed painkillers for short-term use as part of their treatment for things like headaches, fractures, surgical pain, etc. and kept using the opiates for far longer than initially intended.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) previously released guidelines warning physicians about the risk of long-term opiate prescriptions, but it was still unclear what the effects of short-term prescriptions could have, and how likely people were to become addicted.
This new study shows that nearly 50 percent of patients prescribes a one-month supply of opiates were still taking prescription painkillers one year later, and approximately one in four patients were still using opiates three years later – the numbers go down the shorter the initial prescription length. A 12-day prescription resulted in a 24 percent addiction rate, a 6-day prescription resulted in a 12% addiction rate and a one-day prescription resulted in a six percent addiction rate. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Martin, the lead author of the study and a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences professor of pharmaceutical
evaluation and policy commented that,
“No one’s really come up with a definition for when chronic use really begins… We were not anticipating that graph to look as steep as it does in the first 15 days, that rapid. That surprised us.”
Days’ supply of the first prescription is expressed in days (1–40) in 1-day increments. If a patient had multiple prescriptions on the first day, the prescription with the longest days’ supply was considered the first prescription.
“It’s unlikely when physicians are writing a second refill that they’re thinking, ‘Wow, I just doubled the chance of this patient being on opioids one year later,’” Martin continued. “But they should.”
Opiate addiction is a serious issue affecting countless Americans every year. Here at Schick Shadel Hospital, we’ve spend the past 80+ years providing our patients with the help they need to break free of their addiction and reclaim their independence. If you are considering taking the next step towards recovery, you can tell us about your situation by sending us a confidential message, or call us at (800) 272-8464 to speak with a member of our staff today.