Working with surgeons to think critically think about their opioid prescriptions may help in curbing addictions to opioids, according to a new study in Texas.
At Baylor Scott & White hospitals in Central Texas, a program aimed at helping surgeons to look at how they are prescribing opioids as part of post-surgery pain management is helping to reduce the number of days patients are on opioid medication and change surgeon’s thinking about the drug.
Research indicates that opioid prescriptions that last longer than five days put patients at a higher risk for addiction. By working with surgeons to educate them and anesthesiologists about how post-surgery prescriptions can impact addiction, and tying the quality component of their compensation to their opioid prescribing practices, the program was able to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions over five days in length and increase the number of opioid prescriptions for five days or less in length.
Between January 2018 and March 2019, the study found that surgeons reduced post-surgery opioid prescriptions of more than five days by 64 percent while increasing the number of prescriptions of less than five days by 15 percent.
“Opioid prescriptions of over five days have been shown to dramatically increase addiction to opioids,” said lead study author Richard Frazee, a general surgeon at Baylor Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, Texas. “We established a standard of opioid prescriptions of five days or less after elective surgery.”
Frazee acknowledged the behavior shift in surgeons wasn’t easy to achieve. A study from Kaiser health News-Johns Hopkins found that between 2011 to 2016, surgeons frequently wrote opioid prescriptions of 100 pills or more.
“As always, to change surgeons’ behavior, you have to convince them that it is a benefit to their patients,” Frazee said. “We had to overcome many years of misinformation on the ‘safety’ of liberal use of opioids after surgery.”
The approach is only one of many ways to combat the opioid addiction epidemic, he said. Other steps include education, pharmaceutical reform, rehabilitation programs, and easy disposal of unneeded prescriptions.