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New prescription guidelines could help curb opiod abuse

Konstantin Lazorkin

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed guidelines for prescribing opioid medication - guidance that previously did not exist.

The guidelines were developed because doctors say they were unsure how much to prescribe, and as a result, they often over-prescribed opioids.

Joceline Vu is with the Michigan Opioid Prescribing and Engagement Network, which conducted the research. She said doctors don’t know how much pain medication to prescribe.

“Kind of one of the dirty little secrets of our profession is that as someone who is training in surgery I never really got educated on how much to writer for patients after surgery, whether you write them more or less depending what surgery they had, so the education I got was kind of ad hoc at best.”

Vu said when one of the researchers began to call people he realized how few pills people actually needed.

“After they had their surgery he called them on the phone and asked them ‘how many pills did you take after your operation?’ He found the vast majority of people took five pills, most people took zero pills, the vast majority took zero to five pills and we had been prescribing them thirty to sixty pills.”

Vu said developing guidelines is essential - and it’s surprising it hasn’t happened yet.

“It’s shocking and embarrassing honestly but there is really no formal, educational, evidence based central document or source of information for what to write for what people and how much and how long.”

Vu says the guidelines focus on specific surgeries because different surgeries need different pain management.

She said some states restrict the number of opioids that can be prescribed, but in lieu of a mandate the University of Michigan hopes to offer guidance for both doctors and patients.

Last year opioid related overdose deaths continued to break records at roughly 1400 statewide.