What is the risk of opioid dependency following lung surgery?

Many people become opioid dependent following lung surgery. While the use of opioids after lung surgery is intended as a short-term strategy to relieve pain, many people who weren’t prior opioid users continue to take the medication for several months after their lung operations, becoming dependent and “persistent opioid users."

A study was conducted in which data from people with cancer between January 2010 and June 2014 was evaluated using an insurance claims database. The database contained information from more than 100 health plans in the United States. A total of 3,026 people who received an operation to remove part of the lung (lung resection) and were “opioid naïve” were included in the study.

The researchers found that one in seven people (14 percent) became new persistent opioid users after surgery, establishing opioid addiction as a postoperative complication that is as common as others, including atrial fibrillation. According to the researchers, “new persistent opioid users” describes people who were not taking opioids before surgery, underwent surgery, took opioid pain medication, and continued to use the opioid prescription after the operation, even after all wounds had healed and physical recovery was complete.

The research highlights one pathway for long-term opioid use: opioid users who begin taking the pills following a surgical operation.

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