Last week, the Michigan state legislature passed a law prohibiting physicians from prescribing more than a seven-day supply of opioids. Across the state and the country, lawmakers at both the local and national levels have been searching for solutions to the opioid epidemic that plagues our headlines and shatters our communities.
The decision to limit prescriptions after surgery in order to discourage opioid addiction is well-intentioned. In 2016, enough opioids were prescribed to provide every Michigander with 60 pills. Between 2009 and 2015, opioid prescriptions in Michigan increased by 41 percent. It’s clear that overprescribing is an issue in our state. Nationally, surgery-related overprescribing resulted in 3.3 billion unused pills available for misuse and data indicate that nearly three million patients undergoing surgery in 2016 became newly persistent users.
All of these numbers add up to the fact that the operating room has become a gateway to the opioid epidemic, and while prescription limits may help, we must find solutions that prevent addiction before it has a chance to start.
As an oral surgeon in Michigan, it’s my duty to help patients manage their post-surgical pain in a way that’s safe, healthy and sustainable. For this reason, I often advocate for non-addictive opioid alternatives instead of prescription opioids. Not only are these FDA-approved alternatives just as effective at managing post-surgical pain, they significantly reduce the need for opioids and, consequently, the risk of addiction.
It may seem counter intuitive that these medications aren’t more widely known or used, but, due to current federal regulation, they aren’t optional for many surgical patients. It’s up to lawmakers to change this by enacting bipartisan legislation that requires Medicare to reimburse post-surgical opioid alternatives.
While lawmakers nationwide search for solutions to curbing the opioid crisis, there is one fix in particular that needs more attention. It’s time to focus on addiction prevention to make non-addictive opioid alternatives an option for more patients.
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