Identifying Addiction Risk: Opioid Dependence After Surgery

Surgeons, Patients, Caregivers all Have a Role in Constructive Response

The risk for opioid dependency among opioid-naïve cancer patients who took the medication following lung surgery, is highlighted in new research presented earlier this week at the annual meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. Lead author Alexander Brescia, MD, commented, “Surgeons are at the forefront of the opioid crisis as the main prescribers of these medications following surgery. Our research attaches data to this epidemic and hopefully provides a clear characterization of the issue and highlights ways to combat the crisis, with important roles for both surgeons and patients.” The investigators found that 14% of thoracic surgery patients became persistent users of opioids after surgery, and assert that this places addiction risk as a postoperative complication as likely as others including atrial fibrillation. 

Additionally, the findings showed that addiction risk in patients who underwent traditional open lung surgery was nearly double that among patients who received minimally invasive video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (17% vs 9%). Patients aged 64 or below, men, lower incomes, prior substance abuse history, longer postsurgical hospital stay, and postoperative chemotherapy or radiation were additional risk factors for dependency. Dr. Brescia continued “Taking opioids for pain following an operation could put patients at risk of becoming dependent or addicted to these medications. Together with their surgeons, patients should develop a plan to appropriately manage their pain while also minimizing their risk of taking these medications for longer than intended after surgery.”

Read a news story about the research findings.

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