Despite Opioid Abuse Crisis, Prescription Rates Among Eye Surgery Patients Increasing: Study

While state and federal health officials continue to combat the widespread overuse and abuse of opioids, the findings of a new study suggest that prescriptions for the addictive pain medication have doubled over the last several years for individuals undergoing eye surgery.

In a study published last week in the medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers from the University of Philadelphia charted a “remarkable” increase in opioid prescriptions for eye surgery patients since 2000.

Researchers analyzed data from a national insurance claims database from 2000 to 2016, which included individuals who underwent six different types of unrelated incisional eye surgery, including cataract surgery and other incisional ocular procedures.

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More than 2.4 million incisional surgeries involving the eye were included. During the study’s time period the percentage of patients who filled an opioid prescription doubled from 2000 to 2014.

The rates of opioid prescriptions for eye surgery increased from 1.24% in 2000 up to 2.5% in 2014, the highest rate, and then had a small decrease to 2.2% in 2015 and 2.1% in 2016.

Even though eye surgery has gotten easier for patients and become less invasive, offering reduced recovery time, the rates of narcotic painkillers increased. Rates should have gone down during that time period.

Instead, narcotic painkiller prescriptions across the spectrum increased. The increase occurred as the opioid abuse epidemic began to worsen, with overdose deaths doubling from 2006 to 2016 killing more than 72,000 people in 2017 reaching record highs.

The data also indicated the year a patient had their surgery was significantly linked to filling an opioid prescription. The highest odds of getting an opioid prescription after surgery were in 2014, 2015, and 2016 compared to 2000 to 2001.

The eye procedures are unrelated to each other, but the increase in prescription rates was the same for each type of surgery. Researchers said this suggests something other than surgery-related pain spurred the increase.

In fact, doctors prescribe opioids 30% of the time without a documented pain diagnosis. Nearly half of patients given opioids for pain don’t actually need the painkillers. A lot of criticism has been given to doctors as being largely responsible for the opioid abuse epidemic due to overprescribing opioids, especially since most doctors are rewarded by drug companies.

“These findings suggest the rate of filled opioid prescriptions are increasing for all types of incisional ocular surgery over time,” wrote study authors. “Given the ongoing national opioid epidemic, understanding patterns of use can help in reversing the epidemic.”

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