A new study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, claims that older adults who receive pain medications after surgery could be at a higher risk of addiction. According to ABC News , physicians often prescribe opiates after outpatient surgery, including codeine and oxycodone. These drugs are proven to be effective for temporary pain relief, they are also associated with side effects, like constipation, sedation, breathing problems, and addiction.
Researchers studied 400,000 Canadian patients aged 66 and older, who received a prescription for opiate pain killers within 7 days of surgery, such as cataracts, gallbladder removal, prostate tissue removal, or varicose vein stripping. They found that 10% of those patients were identified as long-term opiate users after a year. They also found that patients were 3.7 times more likely to use non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs on a long-term basis if they received a prescription for them after surgery.
The co-author of the study said, “We tried to look at what some of the events are that start people on the road to acute or chronic use of opioids. It’s much easier to prevent the initiation of the medication than to wean people off it later. Everyone should get pain relief, but the painkiller and the dose should be tailored to the specific patient.” Dr. David Maine, director of the Center For Interventional Pain Medicine, claims that the decision to start pain medication should always be taken seriously. He believes that treatment goals should be clearly defined when the prescription is written, to ensure safety and effectiveness of the medication, as well as minimize risks for addiction. He says, “Generally with older patients, if starting an opioid, we set up a short interval follow-up to ensure tolerability of the medication as well as efficacy.”
In 2010, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of fatal opioid poisonings tripled from 4,000 in 1999 to 13,800 in 2006. Along with the painkiller’s potency for addiction, lack of communication between surgeons and family physicians may contribute to excessive painkiller prescriptions. Communication barriers, such as hearing or cognitive function in older patients, may hinder patients in understanding when to taper off, or when to use as per needed.
The study emphasizes the importance of tailoring patient education on a case-by-case basis, as well as coordination among a older patient’s various doctors and physicians.