The danger of prescribing opioids at discharge

Non-opioid users prescribed painkillers upon hospital discharge were nearly five times more likely to become chronic opioid users after a year than patients not prescribed opioids when discharged, a recent study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus reviewed the records of more than 6,600 patients prescribed opioids when they were discharged from the hospital. None of the patients had been prescribed opioids in the previous year, but nearly 1,700 got a refill within 72 hours of discharge, according to the study.

Study author Susan Calcaterra, M.D., told Forbes that clinicians should screen patients for risk factors for substance abuse--previous or current substance abuse, heavy alcohol use or uncontrolled mental health diagnoses--before prescribing the drugs.

She also said that hospitals could get more accurate patient histories by hiring more pharmacists to review prescription drug monitoring program databases for opioid prescriptions from other providers.

"Linking electronic medical records to prescription drug monitoring programs would allow physicians to verify opioid doses or other controlled substances patients are using," Calcaterra said in a study announcement.

The $2.3 billion annual cost of treating opioid abusers in emergency departments and during inpatient care following overdoses strains the bottom lines of hospitals. Insurance isn't always enough to cover the full cost of their care, research shows.

Some insurers restrict prescriptions for opioids such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, saying they can be gateway drugs to chronic use and substance abuse.

To learn more:
- read the study abstract 
- here's the Forbes article
- see the study announcement