Americans 7x more likely to fill opioid prescriptions than Swedes

Americans are seven times more likely to fill a prescription for opioids the week after surgery than Swedes, according to a study published in JAMA Sept. 4.

Researchers found that 76.2 percent of patients in the U.S. filled a prescription for opioids following four common surgeries, compared to 11.1 percent of Swedes, according to the study. Sweden was chosen for comparison because researchers were able to obtain detailed prescription information from its databases.

Americans also received higher doses of opioids. Patients in the U.S. filled prescriptions for about 33 pills on average, compared to 26 pills for Swedes, the study found. Swedes were more likely to get codeine or tramadol, painkillers that are considered weaker types of opioids, while Americans were far more likely to get hydrocodone or oxycodone.

The study authors note that the surgeries analyzed in the study occurred between 2013 and March 2016, a time of growing concern about opioid addiction in the U.S. but before more stringent guidelines were made about the number of pills needed post-surgery.

Mark Neuman, a co-author of the study and an anesthesiologist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicinein Philadelphia, said several potential factors could explain the disparity, including cultural differences, variations in marketing regulation, and ingrained prescribing habits.

The study, which included 129,000 patients in the U.S. and 9,800 patients in Sweden, had its limitations, the researchers note. For example, it could not track how many pills people actually took and there was no data on how patients felt their pain was controlled.

Read the full report here. 

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