Dangers of narcotic pain medications

Prescription drug abuse is an increasing problem nationwide and has reached epidemic levels. It is a particular problem here in Utah, where prescription drug overdose is now the number one cause of accidental deaths, ahead of motor vehicle accidents. Utah is among the top 5 states for prescription drug abuse nearly every year with numbers increasing at an alarming rate.

Individuals who wouldn’t consider shooting up heroin or snorting cocaine are finding themselves addicted to pain medications. With more deaths from legal medications than heroin and cocaine combined.

As a plastic surgeon focused on patient safety, this is an alarming trend. There is an emphasis on safety precautions to minimize risks of major complications such as anesthetic complications, blood clots, and infections. Proper pain medication usage and education should probably be emphasized to the same degree.

Proper pain medication usage is the shared responsibility of the surgeon and patient. A recent study at the University of Utah found that 2/3 of patients had post operative pain medications left over after recovery from surgery. Very few of these patients reported disposal of the medications. This would suggest that many patients are over-prescribed pain medications.

There are surgical modifications that can help reduce the pain from surgery and the amount of pain medications required. For example, gentle tissue handling and use of long lasting local anesthetics in the surgical site where appropriate.

Patients should be taught to safely dispose of all unused pain medications. Keeping them around for pain “in the future” is risky and a poor choice.

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