Decline in number of teens prescribed opioids after surgery


Routine prescription of opioids for pain after surgery appears to be declining among young Americans. Almost half – 48% – of adolescents are prescribed opioids post-surgery, down from more than three-quarters (78%) of opioids administered in such situations five years earlier, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

He found even larger percentage drops in younger children. Opioid prescriptions fell from 54% to 26% among 5- to 10-year-olds. For children under 5, the number of opioids prescribed fell from 30% to 12%. Overall, hydrocodone and oxycodone were the most commonly prescribed opioids.

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The findings were based on data from 124,249 young people who had not taken opioids and who, from 2014 to 2019, underwent surgery considered to have a low likelihood of significant pain, such as tonsillectomy, dental surgery , appendix removal and knee surgery. The researchers found a reduction not only in the number of young people given opioid prescriptions, but also in the dosage included in a prescription.

Opioids can be effective pain relievers, but they can also have serious risks and side effects, especially if used improperly. In young people, for example, opioids can cause what is called respiratory depression, or slow, shallow breathing that cannot sustain life. Opioids are also highly addictive, even more so among young people than adults, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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To stem what has become an epidemic of opioid-related overdoses, the institute is urging doctors to treat young people with opioids only for severe pain, when no other painkillers would work, and for the shortest duration possible.

Additionally, parents of young people who have been prescribed an opioid should ensure that the medication is taken exactly as prescribed and cannot be used by anyone else. Talk to your child’s doctor or pharmacist about how to dispose of any unused medicine.

This article is part of the Post’s “Big Number” series, which briefly examines the statistical side of health problems. Additional information and relevant research is available via the hyperlinks.

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