Increase in opioid use for pain relief during pandemic, study finds

A study conducted by the University of Aberdeen found that the number of patients taking opioids while waiting for surgery has increased by 40% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The increase in use for preoperative pain was linked to waiting time for surgery, which was 90 days longer on average during the pandemic as hospitals focused on acute care.

Opioids such as morphine and tramadol are often used as a last resort for pain management in osteoarthritis. However, researchers have found that there is growing evidence that it may be of limited benefit and even prove detrimental to long-term health, especially in older adults.

Long-term use of opioids before surgery has been associated with an increased risk of surgery-related complications, poorer outcomes, and persistent opioid dependence.

Luke Farrow, Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Applied Health Sciences who led the research, said that alternative ways to treat severe arthritis pain are “urgent” for those waiting for this type of surgery .

“Our work provides evidence of the potential for an emerging opioid problem associated with the impact of Covid-19 on elective orthopedic services,” he said.

“With continued delays in providing timely hip and knee replacements that is expected for some time due to the significant backlog of patients waiting for surgery, patients must seek alternative treatment options to manage their symptoms.

“We advocate that health professionals and patients avoid taking opioid drugs as much as possible because of the known ineffectiveness in this environment and the possible harm.

“We urgently need to find better alternative methods of treating severe arthritis pain for those waiting for this type of surgery and work to resolve the backlog of associated surgical cancellations during Covid-19 to prevent widespread opioid use . “

The study looked at data from 452 NHS patients from northeast Scotland who were on the waiting list for hip and knee replacement surgery and compared the number of patients prescribed opioids with those who had surgery before the pandemic.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, elective orthopedic surgeries have been postponed widespread, supported by research showing that patients waiting for the most common hip and knee replacement procedures were disproportionately affected.

Mr. Farrow added, “While these changes have helped flatten the curve and reduce some of the damage associated with Covid-19 infection, they undoubtedly had an impact on patients whose elective procedures were postponed.

“Covid-19 has had a significant adverse impact on access to hip and knee surgeries, and the work of others has indicated that it is linked to worsening pain and quality of life for patients.”

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