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U.S. still overprescribing opioids for pain management, putting patients at risk | READER COMMENTARY

OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy, Feb. 19, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. Many of these prescriptions are unnecessary and excessive, posing a risk to patients.

I wish to provide some perspective as a graduate student from the George Washington University Milken Institute of Public Health on an article about access to medical treatment and medications and their effect on the opioid crisis. As stated in the article, “Maryland substance abuse experts say more access to treatment and medications is essential to combating opioid crisis” (Nov. 21) by Hallie Miller and Meredith Cohn, overdose deaths rose 21% between April 2020 and April 2021. Most of the action taken toward the opioid crisis involves responding to incidents. Although this is not a bad approach, more should be done to prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place.

Doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals play a key role in prescribing and handling opioids for patient use. For most surgeries an opioid prescription lasting three days is more than enough to manage the onset of intense pain. In a few cases, a longer prescription may be needed but is not advised. With this being said, most opioid prescriptions are completely unnecessary and excessive. In a recent study, researchers found that 91% of patients undergoing outpatient surgeries received opioid prescriptions. All of these prescriptions varied in the number of pills prescribed, with a range of 15 to 120 pills in any given prescription.

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Many of these prescriptions are unnecessary and excessive, posing a risk to patients. Prescribing extra pills for surgeries increases the risk of developing an opioid addiction. These extra pills may also be left in medicine cabinets for an extended period of time where people can use them at any time they wish, even when unnecessary, posing additional risk. Compared to many other countries, the U.S. shows greater reliance on opioids for acute pain management.

Although overdose prevention sites may help mitigate the number of opioid overdoses that occur, the best way to decrease incidents is to decrease the number of opioid prescriptions. The goal of addressing the opioid crisis is to reduce the number of incidents that need a response and the best way to do this is to decrease opioid exposure. Doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals should take the initial step in reducing the number of opiates they prescribe by treating patients with less harmful options. With their assistance, many addictions and overdoses can be avoided, helping to combat the opioid crisis.

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Yvonne Romero, Washington, D.C.

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