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Study: Even Short-Term Opioid Use can Cause Dependency

At the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine’s annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, researchers presented a new study that warns against prescribing opioids for minor pain. The room full of doctors and medical professionals listened to Kit Delgado, an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, explain how even small amounts of opioids can trigger an addiction.

This information comes after some states have already passed laws to limit the number of painkillers that can be prescribed during an emergency room visit, and more states are expected to follow suit. This is because not only do emergency room doctors see patients who have experienced some kind of pain or trauma, but they also frequently see patients who may be seeking drugs. In order to combat this, states like New \Jersey have limited opioid prescriptions from ER doctors to only five pills. This forces the patient to consult with their general practitioner, or specialist.

However, despite the new laws, it is still vital to educate doctors on the danger of addiction after only a few pills. In the past there has been a misconception that a person would have to be on the medication for a lengthy amount of time before they developed a dependence for the drug, but new research shows that an addiction can develop after only a few days.

The information presented at the meeting highlighted the fact that 7% of patients who went to the ER for minor injuries went home with a prescription for painkillers. Further analysis shows that different states have varying levels of culpability when it comes to unneeded prescriptions for such cases. For instance, only 2% of ER visits in Delaware resulted in patients being sent home with painkillers after minor injuries, whereas that total was 16% in Mississippi.

“Because these are patients who have a uniformly minor injury, it emphasizes how much arbitrariness there is in how physicians prescribe opioids,” explained Michael Barnett, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Barnett was not part of the research study, but did conduct one of his own regarding the increase of risk of opioid addiction the more a person is exposed to the medicine.

From our perspective, the more we as a society can get away from recommending and prescribing addictive substances, especially opioids, the better off we’ll be. We see so many lives destroyed by addiction and do our best to help families intervene and get their loved ones into treatment. In the face of the worst opioid epidemic in history, finding non-narcotic solutions for pain is a blessing.

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