PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The City of Philadelphia is the first in the country to issue guidelines to doctors who prescribe opioids for patients after surgery. City leaders say doctors need to join them on the front lines as they aim to reduce the deadly addiction epidemic.
Doctors want to keep patients out of pain following surgery, but research is showing opioids aren’t always the best option, they’re overprescribed, and too many pills end up in the wrong hands.
“With these guidelines, patients will not be suffering unnecessarily with pain,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley.
In announcing the new guidelines for prescribing post-surgical opioids, the health commissioner said doctors need to take more responsibility. Mayor Jim Kenney’s experience is typical.
“I had gallbladder surgery almost two years ago,” said Kenney. “Left the hospital with 30 oxycodones. I wound up taking two or three, then went to Tylenol 800 and it did the job.”
Studies have shown that over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can be better than narcotics for post-surgical pain. Still, the Health Department says 40 opioid pills have traditionally been prescribed to Philadelphia patients following surgery.
“On average, patients only take about a third of the opioids prescribed after surgery,” said Farley.
The excess narcotics are blamed for much of the drug crisis in Philadelphia.
Physicians from leading city hospitals helped create the new post-surgical opioid guidelines — the first of their kind in the country.
It’s recommended that no opioids are prescribed for minor surgery, and patients should get up to 18 pills for major surgery.
“This will reduce the use of opioids after surgery by more than 80 percent,” explained Farley.
Holding doctors accountable is part of the Philadelphia Resilience Project to fight the opioid epidemic that killed 1,200 people last year.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say the future of our city depends in large part of them,” said Kenney.
In announcing the guidelines, Farley talked about a recent survey that showed opioid prescriptions have gone down, but they’re still historically high. One in seven adults in the city were taking opioids in the past year, and one in three or more than 450,000 people had received a prescription in the previous 12 months.