A study unveiled at the annual 2021 Anesthesiology Meeting has found that individuals prescribed opioids following a procedure continue to take them more than 90 days after their procedure. The unpublished, unreviewed study seeks to understand the risk factors that may lead to opioid abuse in the future.

This study was a retrospective examination of medical records from 2013 to 2019. This included 13,970 “opioid-naive” adult patients with no previous history of using opioid products.

The study found that 21% of patients reviewed continued to refill their opioid prescription three months to a year following their procedure. Lead study author Dr. Gia Pittet notes that no patient should be using opioids three months after a procedure with the exception of patients afflicted with chronic or cancer pain.

The presenting researchers noted that this rate of continued use is much higher than would be expected among opioid-naive patients.

“The more than 100 million surgeries in the U.S. every year create an unintended and alarming gateway to long-term opioid use,” Dr. Pittet said, according to MedicalXPress.

The study noted that there were certain patients who were correlated with a higher likelihood of continuing to use opioids. Those individuals were noted as smokers, patients with bipolar disorder, patients with depression, and patients with pulmonary hypertension. While these are strictly correlation and not a definite link, these prospective connections could help inform nurses' and doctors’ decisions related to patient care and opioid prescriptions. 

Dr. Brian Wind, chief clinical officer of the addiction treatment program Journey Pure, told Healthline that by decreasing opioid prescriptions, the risk of addiction could be reduced.

Dr. Wind noted, “Patients may not be sufficiently educated on the addiction risks of opioids. Prescribers might be following default opioid prescription quantities, or even prescribing more for pain management.”