New research shows just how easy it is for patients prescribed with opioids to get hooked.
The data from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus shows patients prescribed the drugs after a hospital stay are five times more likely to become chronic users after one year.
Opioids are used to treat both acute and chronic pain, but there are serious side effects.
"They also cause feelings of euphoria in some patients," said Susan Calcaterra, MD, MPH at CU School of Medicine. "So probably when you get this medication, your pain is controlled, but some people feel better beyond pain control."
Calcaterra was the leading researcher on the study involving 6,689 patients. None of them had been prescribed opioids in the year before the hospitalization. Researchers tracked how many times the patients requested refills. More than 1,600 filled the prescription within three days of discharge.
"We just said if you filled 10 opioid prescriptions in that year following your discharge, you were considered a chronic user," said Calcaterra.
And there was another finding that stood out -- a difference between surgical patients and general medical patients. Both had an increased risk of addiction, but the patients who didn't have surgery were more prone to chronic use.
"Patients with acute pain often get better, and over time, they don't need to continue those medications," said Calcaterra.
Hospital patients are rarely treated by their family doctors, who know them better. For that reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges clinicians to check patients for substance abuse and mental health issues before prescribing the drugs.
"Whether or not it's the right thing to continue the opioid for chronic pain over time is a little more of a gray area," said Calcaterra.
The CDC says drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death in the United States. The number of overdose deaths has more than doubled in the last 15 years.