Study: Many patients prescribed more opioids than they use

Many patients are prescribed more opioids than they use, and few properly dispose of or store them.

Most patients don't use all of the pills in their opioid prescriptions, but they also don’t often dispose of their leftovers properly, according to a new study.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins reviewed a number of prior studies on opioid prescribing and found that between 67% and 92% of patients did not use an entire opioid prescription, but still held onto the leftover medications, putting them at greater risk for misuse, according to data published in JAMA Surgery.

Overall, the study team estimated that 90% of patients fail to dispose of leftover opioids in an appropriate way. Between 73% and 77% said they did not keep their prescriptions in locked containers, with just a few (between 4% and 9%) considering a disposal method approved by the Food and Drug Administration, like returning unused medications to a pharmacy or flushing them down a toilet.

The findings emphasized that pain management is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach and that clinicians should be doing more to personalize prescriptions, particularly with opioids.

“Physicians write a lot of prescriptions for patients to fill for home use after they have inpatient or outpatient surgery, but our review suggests that there’s a lot we don’t know about how much pain medication people really need or use after common operations,” Mark Bicket, M.D., an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins and one of the study authors, said in an announcement.

RELATED: Some doctors struggle to strike balance between curbing opioid prescriptions, caring for pain patients

A small number of patients in the study did not fill opioid prescriptions at all and some patients filled the prescriptions but did not take any painkillers at all. The study included a review of 812 patients across six studies.

Taking a harder look at clinicians’ prescribing habits is seen as one solution to the nation’s opioid addiction crisis. Mandatory education was one of the main recommendations from the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which was convened by President Donald Trump.

The commission has also called for prescription drug monitoring programs to be fully interoperable within the next 12 months to help drive down prescriptions and flag patients at risk. Mandatory PDMP participation curbed opioid prescriptions in three states.