The duration of a prescription may give clues into how long a person ends up using a narcotic painkiller, a new study finds.
The study in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report finds that when you use a narcotic painkiller for just one day, you have only a 6 percent chance of still using that drug a year later. But when that prescription is for eight or more days, your likelihood of using the drug a year later jumps to 13.5 percent. And although just less than 7 percent of all prescriptions exceed a month's dosage, using for 31 days or more increases your chances of long-term opioid use to 29.9 percent.
“The initial prescription a clinician writes has a pretty profound impact on a person’s [likelihood] for being a long-term opioid user,” said Bradley Martin, co-author of the study and head of the Division of Pharmaceutical Evaluation and Policy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Pharmacy.
Considering that prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone were involved in 24 percent of all drug overdoses in 2015, experts have said management of prescription drug overdoses is a key element of fighting the opioid epidemic.
The authors evaluated and followed 1.2 million patients who received prescriptions for opioid painkillers between 2006 and 2015.
In addition to duration of prescription, the type of narcotic prescribed was an indicator of the odds someone would be using the drug a year later.
The authors of the study found that long-acting or extended-release opioids – painkillers have been formulated to provide stable dosage over a longer period of time – were often an indicator of long-term use. Those patients who received a prescription for an extended-release opioid had a 27.3 percent chance to still be using it a year later and a 20.5 percent chance to be using it three years later.
Those who started with certain short-acting opioids, which are formulated to be taken more frequently over the same period of time as a long-acting opioid, had a 8.9 percent chance to still be using after one year and a 5.3 percent chance after three years. When looking only at short-acting hydrocodone and oxycodone, the likelihood of still using a year later dropped to 5.1 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.
Another concern about prescription pills is that painkiller use has been linked to heroin use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), half of all young people who inject heroin started by abusing painkillers. In fact, a quarter of all high school seniors report having used or abused prescription opioids, according to a new report in the journal Pediatrics.
A handful of states -- Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and Maine -- adopted legislation that limits opioid prescriptions to seven days. This year, New Jersey became the strictest, limiting painkiller prescriptions to just five days.
Source: Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)