MONDAY, March 12 (HealthDay News) -- Older patients prescribed
narcotic painkiller drugs, such as codeine or oxycodone, soon after
short-stay surgery are at increased risk of becoming long-term
users, a new study finds.
Canadian researchers looked at data from almost 400,000 patients
aged 66 and older who had short-stay surgery for cataracts,
gallbladder removal, prostate tissue removal or varicose vein
Of those patients, almost 28,000 (more than 7 percent) were
prescribed narcotic painkillers, also called opioids, within seven
days after hospital discharge. More than 30,000 (nearly 8 percent)
were prescribed opioids one year after surgery. Almost 3,000 (more
than 10 percent) of patients from both groups were identified as
long-term opioid users one year after surgery.
Patients who received an opioid prescription within seven days
of surgery were about 44 percent more likely to become long-term
opioid users than those who did not receive an opioid prescription,
according to research leader Dr. Asim Alam, of the University of
Toronto, and colleagues.
Codeine was the most commonly prescribed opioid for patients who
received a prescription within seven days of surgery, followed by
The study also found that patients who received a prescription
for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) within seven
days of surgery were 3.7 times more likely to become long-term
NSAID users than those who did not receive an early
"Our findings suggest that the prescription of codeine after short-stay surgery may contribute to the use of other potent opioids, such as oxycodone, which have been shown to be associated with increased morbidity and mortality," the researchers concluded. "These points do not even consider that the continued use of opioids after one year raises the possibility that the exposure may result in addiction or physical dependence."
The study was published March 12 in the journal
Archives of Internal Medicine.
The authors of an accompanying journal commentary said previous
studies have shown that opioids are more often prescribed to women
than men, and that women tend to take higher doses.
They suggest that doctors discuss with their patients the risks
and benefits before prescribing opioids for chronic pain.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers a guide to the
safe use of pain medications.