Unused prescription opioids have fueled the opioid epidemic

Over two-thirds of surgery patients in the U.S. are overprescribed opioids, and the leftover pills are often mishandled at home, a new study revealed.

A new review of six studies by Dr. Mark C. Bicket and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that among 810 patients who underwent seven different kinds of operations, 42 percent to 71 percent failed to use the opioids they received, and 67 percent to 92 percent still had the unused drugs at home.

The study, published in JAMA Surgery, stated that unused painkillers can lead to nonmedical opioid use and also related injuries and deaths. Many of these surgeries included medical procedures of the lungs, skin, shoulders or hands, dental work, and cesarean sections.

A large majority of patients who have since recovered from surgery also failed to secure or discard painkillers properly, which can lead to misuse and abuse. Five of the studies discovered that only 25 percent of all participants safely stored their painkillers in a locked device.


Most participants stopped using their opioids after the pain stopped, but some also said they ended use over worries concerning addiction. Less than 33 percent disposed of their excess pills or had no intentions to throw them away. Additionally, less than 10 percent thought about or followed appropriate directions to discard the opioids.

The findings highlighted the issue of personalized pain management, an approach that can prevent overprescribing and lower the risk of unmonitored pills left in areas of the household.

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