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Prescription Opioid Use a Concern for Adolescent Surgery Patients

Nearly 5 percent of patients ages 13 to 21 who had common surgical procedures continued to receive opioid prescription refills three to six months after surgery, according to new data presented by Michigan OPEN research fellow Calista Harbaugh at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition and published in Pediatrics.

This is the first known study to show that long-term opioid use after surgery may be a significant problem for teens and young adults. Researchers analyzed data using commercial claims from the Truven MarketScan research databases between January 1, 2010, and June 30, 2015.

The cohort study included 88,637 privately insured adolescents (with an average age of about 17) who had never used opioids before and who had one of 12 common surgical procedures, including tonsil or adenoid removal, hernia repair, cholecystectomy and scoliosis repair.

Of the total, more than 4,343 patients still got opioid refills 90 to 180 days after surgery, according to pharmacy claims.

“One of the most common things we hear when we raise this issue is ‘doctors don’t give kids opioids,’ but we know that’s not accurate. We found that nearly 90,000 young people in this study received opioids, and almost 1 in 20 of them continued to receive these medications months later. Doctors need to be aware that refilling opioid prescriptions for teens can be a problem by either increasing the risk of dependence or increasing access to medications that may be distributed to other youth,” says Calista Harbaugh, MD.

Harbaugh notes that researchers looked at opioid prescriptions, not necessarily opioid use. But refills indicate the medications were used, stored or diverted into the community, she says.