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New study suggests Canadian patients are getting more opioids than they need

Last Updated Sep 4, 2019 at 1:37 pm PST

Prescription pills containing oxycodone and acetaminophen are shown in Toronto, Nov. 5, 2017. The overall number of prescriptions for opioids has increased over the last five years, but doctors have been giving patients fewer doses at one time, a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information has found.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Summary

Evidence suggests patients in North America are getting more opioids than they need

The study raises the question of whether opioids are necessary for pain management after surgery

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A new study has found patients in Canada and the United States filled opioid prescriptions after minor surgery at a rate that was seven times higher than those in Sweden.

Researchers examined prescriptions filled by individuals in the first week after undergoing one of four low-risk operations in the three countries.

Just 11 per cent of patients in Sweden filled an opioid prescription, compared with 79 per cent in Canada and 76 per cent in the U.S. The study, published Sept. 4 in JAMA Network Open, also says the amount of opioids dispensed was significantly higher in the U.S. compared with Canada and Sweden.

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Dr. Karim Ladha, a clinician-scientist at Saint Michael’s Hospital and a co-author of the study, says there’s a lot of evidence that suggests patients in North America are getting more opioids than they need. He says many people who have never used opioids before first encounter them after surgery.

“It’s hard to quantify how much of what’s going on in society in terms of the opioid epidemic can be attributable to this particular period,” he says. “But we do know that surgery represents one of the most common reasons why someone is first exposed to opioids, so that’s why I think it’s an important issue.”

Ladha says the study raises the question of whether opioids are necessary for pain management after surgery, and the researchers are planning further study to get to the bottom of that question.

Nearly 4,500 opioid-related deaths occurred in Canada last year.