Opioid research

Dr. Mel Pohl, speaking about the Opioid Epidemic at the IntNSA Conference in 2016.

In one of the latest studies to address the opioid epidemic, researchers at the University of Arkansas found that the longer a person takes opioids, the greater the chance he or she has of becoming a long-time user.

The study, which utilized prescription record data from 1.3 million opioid users, discovered a correlation in the size of the initial opioid supply and the percentage of people who were still using the powerful and addictive drug one year later.

“One in five people who were given a ten-day opioid prescription became long-term users.”

The researchers found, for instance, that when patients were prescribed a one-day supply of opioid medications, they had a 6 percent chance of remaining on opioids for a year or longer. When patients were prescribed a ten-day supply, on the other hand, the odds of continually using the drug for more than a year jumped to 20 percent. Put another way, one in five people who were given a ten-day opioid prescription became long-term users. This surprised the researchers; they’d expected an increase but were astonished by the size and speed of the increase. “We really didn’t expect that,” Bradley Martin, one of the researchers on the study, told a reporter from Ars Technica.

The full results were as follows:

Amount of Opioids Odds of Using Opioids for One Year or Longer
One-day supply 6 percent chance
Five-day supply 10 percent chance
Six-day supply 12 percent chance
Ten-day supply 20 percent chance
Thirty-day supply 45 percent chance

Graph of Opioid Use

What’s more, the study found that the odds were significantly increased when a thirty-day supply was given to the patient all at once as part of the initial prescription. As the graph above shows, patients had a 45 percent chance of being on the opioid a year later. Furthermore, they had a 20-percent chance of still being on the opioid three years later.

Diligent Doctors

The study’s researchers also found that the number of patients who were prescribed the type of opioids most commonly used to treat chronic pain amounted to less than one percent of the opioid-prescribed population, which suggests that doctors aren’t, for the most part, intentionally attempting to treat chronic pain with opioids. Opioids are highly addictive and even when prescribed exclusively for acute pain, have the potential for abuse, as this and other studies have demonstrated.

It’s important that doctors continue to adhere to the CDC’s 2016 opioid guidelines, which recommended that doctors only prescribe a short supply (three days or less) of  low-dose opioids, and only when treating acute pain, except in cases of cancer or terminal illness.

How to Reduce the Risk of Dependency

The researchers were able to pinpoint a few possible factors that determined whether or not someone was at a greater risk of becoming dependent. They included:

  • Long-acting opioids—Those that were prescribed long-acting opioids like Fentanyl (which is the opioid reportedly responsible for the singer Prince’s fatal overdose), were more likely to become dependent. Thus, to avoid becoming dependent, abstain from long-acting opioid like Oxycodone (Oxycontin) and Oxymorphine (Opana). Visit the US Food and Drug Administration website for a full list of long-acting and extended-release opioids.
  • Multiple prescriptions—One in seven people who received a second opioid supply or a prescription for a refill remained on the opioid for a year or longer. The study’s researchers recommend doctors and patients decline refill prescriptions in order to reduce the risk of dependency.
  • High doses—Researchers found that those who received more than 700 milligrams of morphine increased their risk of dependency. Stick with a low-dose or “weak” opioid in order to minimize the risk.

To learn more, read: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6610a1.htm – F1_up


Las Vegas Recovery Center (LVRC) is a chronic pain and substance addiction treatment center that offers inpatient and outpatient alcohol and drug rehab programs as well as a comprehensive family and alumni services program. LVRC’s main campus is located in a quiet residential neighborhood in northwest Las Vegas. Contact us to learn more about the numerous chronic pain and addiction services we offer.

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