Leftover opioids are a common dilemma for surgery patients

Leftover opioids are a common dilemma for surgery patients

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CHICAGO (AP) — Surgery patients often end up with leftover opioid painkillers and store the remaining pills improperly at home, a study suggests.

The research raises concerns about overprescribing addictive medicine that could end in the wrong hands.

Uncertainty among doctors about how much medicine patients really need after common operations contributes to the problem. Many patients also don't know how to safely get rid of unused medications, said lead researcher Dr. Mark Bicket, a Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist.

Here are some key things to know:


Bicket and colleagues reviewed six studies involving 810 patients. Surgeries included operations on the skin, lungs, shoulder and hands, cesarean sections and dental work.

At least two-thirds of patients reported having leftover opioids afterward; often more than half the prescribed pills were unused. Most stopped taking the drugs because their pain had subsided, although a few said they stopped over concerns about addiction risks.

Fewer than one-third had gotten rid of their leftover pills or had plans to; an even smaller number — fewer than 10 percent — had considered or followed proper ways to dispose of the narcotics.

The study was published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery.


Authorities say opioid painkillers should be stored in their original packaging and kept locked inside a cabinet out of children's reach. Some drugstores including CVS and Walgreens collect unused medications. People can also take leftovers to hospital pharmacies or police stations.

The Drug Enforcement Administration lists disposal locations by zip code online.

A national medication take-back day is set for October 28 where people can drop off expired, unused or unwanted prescription drugs. Call local pharmacies or police departments to learn about other drop-off days.

The Food and Drug Administration lists opioids that can be flushed down the toilet although some states have bans.


Doctors should consider smaller opioid doses depending on each patient's needs, Bicket said. Pain relief options other than opioids, including over-the-counter pain relievers and exercise, should also be considered after surgery, he said.


Follow Lindsey Tanner on Twitter at @LindseyTanner. Her work can be found here .

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