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How Prescription Duration Affects Dependence and Addiction
March 27, 2017

How Prescription Duration Affects Dependence and Addiction

A recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention takes a closer look at how the duration of an opioid prescription can affect a person’s chances of addiction. The report finds that when you use a narcotic painkiller for just one day, you have only a 6% chance of still using that drug a year later. When that prescription is for eight or more days, your likelihood of using the drug a year later jumps to 13.5%, while using for 31 days or more increases your chances of long-term opioid use to 29.9%.

Opioid medications bind to the areas of the brain that control pain and emotions, altering the brain’s production of the feel-good hormone dopamine. This uptake in dopamine in the brain’s reward areas produces intense feelings of euphoria. As the brain becomes accustomed to these feelings, it requires more and more of the drug to produce the same effect, leading to dependence and ultimately, addiction. Considering that prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone were involved in 24% of all drug overdoses in 2015, experts have said, management of prescription drug overdoses is a key element of fighting the opioid epidemic. Health officials are now turning to physicians for help in the fight, encouraging doctors to limit the length of prescription opioid treatment.

“The initial prescription a clinician writes has a pretty profound impact on a person’s likelihood for being a long-term opioid user,” said Bradley Martin, co-author of the study and head of the Division of Pharmaceutical Evaluation and Policy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Pharmacy. The study evaluated and followed 1.2 million patients who received prescriptions for opioid painkillers between 2006 and 2015. Researchers found that, in addition to the length of initial prescription, the type of narcotic prescribed was also an indicator of the odds someone would still be using the drug a year later.

Study authors found that those prescribed long-acting or extended-release opioids, designed to release the drug slowly over time, were often more at risk for long-term use, with a 27.3% chance that they will still be taking the drug a year later. This is a drastic difference between patients prescribed short-acting opioids, which only had an 8.9% chance of still being used a year later. This report is groundbreaking in that it looks into factors for abuse that have otherwise not been researched, and this sort of basic information is extremely necessary.

In 2016, the CDC established guidelines for prescribing narcotics for chronic pain. Non-opioid treatments are preferred methods to manage chronic pain, and opioids should be used only when the benefits outweigh the risks. The recommendations also called on prescribers to limit initial prescriptions to three days or less. A handful of states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and Maine) have adopted additional legislation that limits opioid prescriptions to seven days. This year, New Jersey became the strictest, limiting painkiller prescriptions to just five days. Slowly but surely, researchers, healthcare officials, physicians, and legislators are teaming up to tackle the opioid problem at its source.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction to prescription opioids or heroin, consider seeking treatment today. A New Start, Inc. is a Premier Intensive Outpatient Treatment Center located in South Florida. We cater to clients from all over the United States at our beautiful West Palm Beach facility. Our dedicated staff provides therapy services, support and guidance throughout the recovery process. To learn more about treatment with A New Start, Inc. please call 1-844-TALK-ANS.

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