US opioid-prescribing rates can be nearly 30% higher than in other countries

Opioid-prescribing during hospital stays and at discharge may be higher in the United States than in other countries, according to a study published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

The research team, led by researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, studied prescribing practices at 11 hospitals in eight countries: the United States, Canada, Spain, Italy, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

In the U.S., researchers focused on four hospitals: University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Denver Health, Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis and Legacy Health in Portland, Ore.

Researchers examined prescriptions for 503 patients in the U.S., and 478 patients from other countries.

They found that 79 percent of the patients in U.S. hospitals who experienced pain were prescribed opioids during their hospital stays, compared to 51 percent of patients in facilities in the other countries.

The study authors said that the higher share of opioid prescriptions given out at U.S. hospitals may be linked to patients' perception of pain.

"While we observed that physicians in the U.S. more frequently prescribed opioid analgesics during hospitalizations than physicians working in other countries, we also observed that patients in the US reported higher levels of pain during their hospitalization," the study authors wrote.

Thus, combating the opioid epidemic may require "addressing patients' expectations regarding pain control, in addition to providers' inpatient analgesic-prescribing patterns," they wrote.

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