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University of Michigan develops new opioid guide for post-surgical pain

Oct 18, 2017

Patients and surgeons can now find free, online recommendations about how much opioid pain medication to prescribe for 11 common operations.

The guidelines were developed by a team of University of Michigan medical researchers, with the goal of curbing opioid addiction. They include suggested information for health care providers to give patients about post-surgical pain expectations and medication use. 

The guidelines are based on surveys of how much medication Michigan patients actually took to deal with post-surgical pain. The recommended amounts are the actual maximum opioid use reported by three-fourths of the surgery patients surveyed.

"What we're hoping to do is give most people what they need and minimize the amount of leftover pills they have," said Jay Lee, M.D., a general surgery resident at Michigan Medicine who helped create the recommendations. "And for the small amount of people who don't have enough, they can call back and get more medication, if needed."

"What used to happen is we would give out a certain number of pills after each operation that was essentially a guess," said Lee.

Lee said doctors were prescribing on average three times more opioid pain pills after gall bladder removal surgery than patients actually took.

The results also showed that on average half of all the patients surveyed used six opioid pills or fewer, while doctors on average prescribed 5o pills.

According to Lee, more opioid prescriptions are written in Michigan than there are people.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported that 11.4 million prescriptions for painkillers were written in 2015, or about 115 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people. 

According to MDHHS, 2,335 people died of drug overdoses in 2016, more deaths than in car accidents. 

The UM research team has also developed a patient brochure and information about what patients should do if they have opioid pain medications left over after treatment. This includes a map to help people in Michigan locate prescription drug drop-off locations.