The research warns that such a huge number of unused prescribed narcotic painkillers may lead to an opioid epidemic in the United States. Dr. Brandon Maughan said that translating this to the U.S. population means that over 100 million opioid pills are not used by patients as intended. This opens ways for the possibility of patients misusing or abusing the pills.

Past studies have indicated that most painkillers abusers source them from friends and families who did not finish their dose. Maughan and his colleagues noted this during news release at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine.

How the study was done

In order to carry out their study, the researchers analyzed the usage of painkillers among 79 patients whose wisdom tooth had been removed. Three weeks after undergoing surgery, only 5 of the 79 patients had completed their prescribed opioid dose. The dosage consisted of strong drugs such as Vicodin or Percocet.

This study involved giving 94 percent of the patient’s opioid to manage their pain after surgery. About 8 out of 10 were also provided with a prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and/or a prescription antibiotic.

Within 24 hours after the surgery, researchers observed that on average, only 5 out of 10 patients were taking the painkillers. Two days that followed the study saw 3 out of 10 patients feeling less pain. More than 80 percent of the patients were no longer in pain 5 days after the surgery. This implied that the number of patients taking the painkillers declined.

Averagely, patients who showed no post-surgical complications were given prescriptions for 28 opioid pills. Three weeks down the line, the average pills remaining was 15, meaning 1,000 opioid pills were unused.

A co-author of the study, Dr. Elliot Hersh, said that the results of their study indicated the pain that most patients feel within five days after surgery is relatively less. This makes many of them not to remain true to their dose, thus the high rates of patients who leave the prescription.

Hersh added that research indicates “prescription-strength NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, combined with acetaminophen, can offer more effective pain relief and fewer adverse effects than opioid-containing medications.”

What’s next then?

Hersh, who works at Penn Dental Medicine in Philadelphia as a professor in the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery and pharmacology said that as much opioid plays a significant role in managing acute pain, the quantities availed to the users need to be limited.

Maughan, who is with a health policy consulting firm – Lewin Group – said that the increasing concern about abuse of opioid prescription should alert all the prescribers to take the responsibility of limiting opioid exposure. The dental clinicians, oral surgeons and physicians should educate patients on the risks of opioid misuse.

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