Monday, February 27, 2017

Why Are Young Mothers Getting Opioid Prescriptions They Really Don’t Need?

A doctor writing a prescription
America’s addiction to opioids hovers at an unprecedented level. According to the Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose-related fatalities now comprise the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S with prescription opioids driving this surge.

And, in response, clinicians have upped the ante. Investing millions of research dollars to explore the development of more effective and efficient treatments for addiction.

Concurrently, prevention should also be a priority. While the distribution of prescription painkillers has specific applications, overprescribing can lead to serious and chronic addictive behaviors. That’s why it’s crucial to prevent problematic behaviors from snowballing into more serious conditions.

Related to this, one recent study examined the trend of opioid over-prescribing among new moms. They asked, why is this happening and what are the ramifications? This study, published in the March issue of the Journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, investigated the practice of opioid-prescribing after birth, which had not yet been studied widely.

"There are many guidelines for managing acute or chronic pain, but not for maternity care," said lead author Marian Jarlenski, a Pitt health-policy researcher. "We have a public health crisis with opioid addiction. We were surprised to see more than 1 in 10 women were going home with an opioid prescription."

Researchers found that twelve percent of lower-income women filled an opioid prescription soon after giving birth, even though most of them didn’t have a clinical reason for receiving a prescription for the addictive painkiller.

To investigate the likelihood of over-prescribing, scientists reviewed the medical charts of 164,720 women looking for new mothers who experienced conditions that could likely warrant an opioid prescription. This includes surgical causes that include procedures such as an episiotomy, a genital tear during childbirth and/or a tubal ligation.

They found that more than 18,000 mothers were prescribed an opioid post-childbirth while less than a third of those had a pain-causing condition documented in their medical chart.

"Are there some providers who always give women a prescription?" Jarlenski says. "Are there some who never do? What should the balance be?"

While these findings suggest that prescription painkillers are being overprescribed, it is a trend that can be reversed. With additional studies to develop more accurate clinical guidelines, we can help keep more Americans healthy and avoid addiction before it even starts.

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