The likelihood a one- or five-day prescription leads to year-long use is incredibly high
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sheds light on just how fragile the relationship between patients and opioid addiction is. The past decade has seen a tremendous rise in not just opioids (20,101 deaths in 2015), but in heroin overdoses (12,990 in 2015), an addiction which is often spurred by the inability to afford or procure prescription drugs.
The new study confirms what many know to be true; it’s the quick ramp-up to addiction that makes these widely prescribed drugs so popular. A short-term (five-day) prescription for opioids increases any patient’s risk of dependency and long-term addiction.
Here’s the graph in question, with the lines representing the likelihood of addiction both one year from initial prescription and three years from initial prescription.
The study found that 6 percent of users given a one-day supply of opioids were using them—prescribed or otherwise—a year later. That’s a somewhat jarring statistic in its own right, knowing that a single prescription equates to a 1 in 16 chance your dependence on that drug will run for the next year.
When the initial supply of opioid increases from a one-day supply to a six-day supply, the likelihood that a person will be using them a year later jumps from 6 percent to 12 percent.
And with a 12-day supply, that figure doubles again to a 24 percent likelihood of a year-long relationship with opioids.
Of course, there are caveats to taking these numbers out of context. More serious conditions would warrant longer initial and long-term painkiller usage. Frankly, any reason for a person to be on a year-long course of opioid treatment is cause for alarm. Further, it’s believed that the effectiveness of opioids to fight pain long term diminishes over time.
"There’s nothing magical about five days versus six days, but with each day your risk of dependency increases fairly dramatically," said the CDC’s Bradley Martin, one of the study’s authors.
The study takes pains to indicate that their assessment of long-term use isn’t to be confused with long-term addiction, but it doesn’t require much in the way of logical gymnastics to realize the longer someone takes an addictive opioid, the risk for addiction rises. As such, if you don’t want a patient to endure the risk of addiction one year from now, is an opioid the best initial treatment, given the rising likelihood that they’ll continue taking the drug?
It’s a question, among many others, that will need to be addressed as we witness the worsening epidemic of opiate and opioid addiction in the United States.