It may be shocking to hear that more than half of non-surgical hospital patients are prescribed opiates by their doctors after they are admitted to the hospital. These effective but highly habit forming drugs are being over-administered by the very doctors we trust with our health.

A study published by the Journal of Hospital Medicine suggests overprescribing opioids may be the largest factor contributing to addiction.

The study reported that 51% of the patients admitted to the hospital who were not expecting surgery as part of their treatment were given opioids to manage their pain. The attempt at controlling pain through medication is creating bigger problems than it is solving. According to the CDC, deaths attributed to prescription opiate overdoses have quadrupled in the last ten years.

One proposed solution to curb the overuse of opioids for these patients is for doctors to consistently ask about pain levels. The doctor may ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?” This can help assess when medications may be truly necessary.

The mismanagement of opioid medications may be one of the most challenging factors in limiting the use of these drugs. Opiates need to be decreased in dosage over time to reduce dependency before stopping the medication entirely. Many of these patients will continue taking the medication at home without a doctor’s proper supervision. There may also be instances of the hospital doctor and the patient’s primary care physician prescribing several medications at the same time increasing the opportunity to develop dependency.

There are many possible side effects from opiates including respiratory depression which can cause the patient to stop breathing.

Experts suggest that patients understand the questions they need to answer as well as ask before accepting any drugs given in the hospital. Talk to your doctor about alternatives that are non-habit forming. Drugs that do not contain opiates of any sort may be an appropriate alternative for many conditions.

Have you been prescribed opiates in the hospital when you weren’t admitted for a surgical procedure?

Image by Ari Bakker via Flickr


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