Most medical experts agree that when prescribed and used properly, opioid-based pain medications can provide much needed relief for either individuals with severe injuries or those recovering from surgery. Many public health officials say, however, that painkillers are being overprescribed and that many people with less serious medical conditions have access to the drugs. A new study, published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, affirms this assertion and found that 50 percent of non-surgery hospital patients are given painkillers, usually in very high doses.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston analyzed the records of over 1 million people admitted to 286 hospitals around the United States between 2009 and 2010. Of the non-surgical patients who have been given painkillers, half of them were taking their prescriptions on their discharge day. The scientists also found that patients of hospitals that gave out more medications were at greater risk for complications related to those drugs than individuals who had been admitted to facilities more conservative about offering narcotics.
"In other words, hospitals that used these drugs more frequently did so less safely," said study author Dr. Shoshana Herzig in a press release. "Taken together, our findings really emphasize the importance of good communication between inpatient and outpatient providers […] We hope this information will prompt hospitals to take a closer look at their own opioid-prescribing practices."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription drug overdoses kill over 14,000 Americans a year. The agency recently declared that prescription drug abuse was at epidemic levels.
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