opioidOpioid dependency is already a major problem facing people in the United States and a new study warns that this common surgeries can contribute to this.

The study says that patients who have knee surgery—and other more common operations—have an elevated risk of opioid dependency.

According to study author Dr. Eric Sun, “For a lot of surgeries there is a higher chance of getting hooked on painkillers.”

The Stanford University School of Medicine instructor goes on to say, “The message isn’t that you shouldn’t have surgery. Rather, there are things that anesthesiologists can do to reduce the risk by finding other ways of controlling the pain and using replacements for opioids when possible.”

For this study, the research team looked at the medical claims of patients after 11 common surgical procedures between 2001-2013. They compared roughly 642,000 privately insured surgical patients between the ages of 18 and 64 against 18 million nonsurgical patients. They found that patients receiving knee surgery were roughly five times more likely to become chronic opioid users versus patients who did not undergo such surgery. Similarly, gall bladder surgery patients showed increased rates—approximately 3.5 times increased risk for dependency.

Sun also notes, “We also found an increased risk among women following cesarean section, which was somewhat concerning since it is a very common procedure,” Sun said. For these women, the rate was 28 percent higher.”

Indeed, “chronic opioid users” filled at least 10 prescriptions or received more than a 120-day supply in their first year following the operation (not including the initial three-month post-op recovery period).

Overall, the study concludes: “Our results have several clinical implications. First, while we found that surgical patients are at an increased risk for chronic opioid use, the overall risk for chronic opioid use remains low among these patients, at less than 0.5 percent for most of the procedures that we examined. Thus, our results should not be taken as advocating that patients forgo surgery out of concerns for chronic opioid use. Rather, our results suggest that primary care clinicians and surgeons should monitor opioid use closely in the post-surgical period.”

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