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The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis says the nation’s opioid epidemic should be deemed a national emergency. Video provided by Newsy
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I was taught to give every surgical patient up to 90 opioid tablets on discharge. Then my father recovered from an operation with one ibuprofen tablet.

For most of my surgical career, I gave out opioids like candy. My colleagues and I were unaware that about one in 16 patients become chronic users, according to new research by doctors at the University of Michigan. Even more alarming, research shows that relapse rates after opioid addiction treatment could be as high as 91%. In addition to expanding treatment, it’s time we address the root of the problem — overprescribing.

My own aha moment came recently after my father had gallbladder surgery and recovered comfortably at home with a single ibuprofen tablet. Wow. It directly contradicted my residency training 15 years ago, when I was taught to give every surgical patient a prescription for 30-90 opioid tablets upon discharge. Some of my mentors told me that overprescribing prevents late night phone calls asking for more. The medical community at that time ingrained in all of us that opioids were not addictive and urged liberal prescribing. So that’s exactly what we did.

More: Declare opioid ‘national emergency’

More: GOP health bill is a disaster for opioid crisis

The hundreds of excessive opioid prescriptions I wrote in 2015 alone (the last year for which national data are available) were a tiny part of the country’s 249 million opioid prescriptions filled that year, almost one for every American adult. Last year, America produced 14 billion opioid pills (40 for every U.S. citizen), mostly paid for by the American public in the form of tax dollars or increasing health insurance premiums. 

Take C-section for example, one of the most common operations paid for by Medicaid tax dollars. Some doctors appropriately prescribe five to 10 opioid tablets after the procedure (in combination with non-opioid meds as recommended by the American Pain Society), while other doctors are still doing what I did for years — give every patient a bottle of 30-60 highly addictive opioid tablets.

We need to take away the matches, not put out the fires.

My colleagues at Johns Hopkins…