The challenges of lowering opioid prescriptions

A new study on guidelines aimed at lowering opioid prescriptions to prevent addiction shows the potential success — and challenges — of changing prescribing habits, according to NPR.

The study, published Aug. 14 in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at almost 12,000 patients with acute pain in 43 Michigan hospitals and found that, seven months following the release of specific guidelines for different operations, surgeons reduced the number of pills prescribed to patients by nearly a third. Meanwhile, the patients reported no drop in satisfaction or increase in pain.

The results suggest smaller amounts of opioids are sufficient to control patients' pain and that guidelines can successfully lower opioid prescription doses. Still, the study also demonstrates the difficulty of changing prescribing habits: The average number of pills prescribed to patients at the study's conclusion in May 2018 was still higher than recommended. 

Michigan is also unique in its concerted effort to change prescribing habits. Other states have seen far less progress, and overall the U.S. prescribes some of the highest numbers of opioids in the world. The number of pills prescribed per patient in seven different operations nationwide dropped by just one or two from 2016 to 2017, according to an analysis of Medicare data by Kaiser Health News and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

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