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    Opioids: What Patients and Doctors Think

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    WebMD Health News

    Dec. 30, 2015 -- After using prescription pain medicines known as opioids, more than one-third of respondents in a WebMD survey say they keep those medicines for future use.

    About the same percentage, though, believe it’s rare for those medications to fall into the wrong hands, despite what's been called a national epidemic of opioid dependence.

    Both WebMD and its sister site, Medscape, conducted the surveys online -- WebMD of 1,887 consumers and Medscape of 1,513 health care professionals. The questions explored issues including opioid prescribing practices, use and disposal of these meds, and beliefs and awareness surrounding misuse and addiction.

    Opioids are a class of powerful pain-relieving drugs. They include codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone, among others. They have similar effects to those of heroin -- euphoria and pain relief -- when they are misused.

    The total number of opioid pain relievers prescribed in the United States has soared in the past 25 years, to more than 200 million. Meanwhile, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says opioid overdose deaths have more than tripled in the past 13 years. The CDC said earlier this month that these deaths, including from both prescription drugs and heroin, hit record levels in 2014, increasing 14% in just 1 year.

    While consumers showed awareness of opioid risks, they seemed to believe addiction isn’t something that would happen to them or their families. Nearly half say they have concerns about other patients becoming addicted, but only 21% are concerned for themselves or their loved ones.

    • 35% say they have taken an opioid in the past 3 years.
    • 92% of those say they have also explored alternatives to relieve pain.
    • Over-the-counter medication tops the list of those alternatives (80%), followed by topical prescriptions (32%), or alternatives such as acupuncture (25%).
    • But only 26% say those other options were effective.

    That may be why 41% of patients say they save their unused opioids for future use, with nearly the same percentage -- 42% -- thinking it’s rare for those to fall into someone else’s hands, such as children’s or teens’.

    “I was struck by the number of unused opioids that patients are keeping,” says WebMD medical editor Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH.

    “Are people afraid of getting addicted and using less than they might need? Or, when doctors decide to give an opioid, are they giving more pills than they need to? I think research in these areas would help us understand how to educate patients and their doctors to use opioids safely and effectively.”

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