After an injury or medical procedure, you may be desperate for pain relief, yet concerned over how much of your prescription you can take before you become dependent on it. How does your doctor know what amount and length of time are safe for you?

According to STAT news, your doctor may not know the answer. In fact, the medical community as a whole is struggling to figure out when enough of an opioid is enough and not too much.

One current report indicates that 6% to 14% of patients who undergo surgery or visit an emergency department are still taking prescription opioids six months to a year afterward, while between 41% and 72% of patients who undergo surgery never finish their prescriptions.

A committee from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has offered doctors some guidelines for ways to develop individual plans for prescribing opioids for acute pain. However, they do not provide recommendations.

The guidelines instruct prescribers to consider the following factors, among others:

  • Whether there are alternative treatments for the condition
  • Harmful consequences of the drug vs benefits of the drug
  • The potential need for refills or possibility of leftover pills

Acute pain occurs suddenly and may last as long as 90 days. It is often the result of an injury or a medical procedure.

Members of the committee say that part of the problem is that two people could receive strikingly different prescription amounts for the same procedure or condition if they visit two different medical facilities. The guidelines should allow any medical professional or facility to develop a framework that is consistent with others across the country, but ultimately, the decision is in the hands of your prescriber.

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