The Opioid epidemic has taken a toll in the U.S., and now, researchers are investigating the root of the problem.

The report, published March 17, found that the initial opioid prescription patients receive can set the stage for developing an addiction. The researchers suggest that prescribing fewer opioids over a shorter amount of time will decrease the addiction risk. If the prescription is decreased to three days or less, they found the possibility of addiction lowers significantly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed patient records from 2006 to 2015 for the report, which is published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. They did not include patients who previously abused substances. Furthermore, they excluded people who had cancer, aside from non-melanoma skin cancer.

In the report, researchers found that there is a steep inclination for patients to use opioids long-term if their initial prescriptions are longer than five days. This particularly applies to patients with a 30-day supply of the drug.

Additionally, refills and second prescriptions largely impact someone’s ability to stop using opioids. Specifically, researchers found that one in seven patients with a second prescription or refill still use the medicine a year after the initial prescription. However, they did not consider pain as a factor in the longevity of substance use, which could influence the results.

They also found that the type of opioid prescribed determined the likelihood of addiction. While patients using long-acting opioids were more susceptible to chronic use, short-action prescriptions were less addictive. Accordingly, approximately 25 percent of long-action opioid patients continued using the drug a year after the initial prescription. Furthermore, about 20 percent continued using three years later.

Opioids in the U.S.

Thousands of people in the U.S. die every year because of opioid overdosing. In 2014 alone, more than 47,000 people took fatal overdoses. Scientists believe that doctors over-prescribing these drugs is a large source of the problem.

Generally, doctors prescribe opioids as a pain reliever. Common forms of opioids are OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, and Dilaudid.

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