From the Editor

Opioids and us: Designed to fail


As vascular surgeons, there are several steps we can take immediately to reduce our contributions to the opioid epidemic and protect our patients:

  • Always use the lowest effective dose of opioids and dramatically reduce the number of pills in your postop scripts. Fewer than 15 pills will cover most surgeries we perform.
  • New data show that acetaminophen combined with ibuprofen works better for acute pain than acetaminophen combined with an opioid. Increase your use of nonnarcotic pain medications.
  • Counsel your patients on the risk of addiction. If you plan to issue a script with only a few pills or nonnarcotics, let them know why in advance.
  • Use caution when prescribing opioids to patients with anxiety or depression. The risk of addiction is much higher in these patients because of the anxiolytic and antidepressant qualities that opioids have.
  • Avoid opioids in patients taking benzodiazepines, which can exacerbate the risk of respiratory depression and death.
  • Help patients safely dispose of unused opioids.
  • Use drug-monitoring programs whenever available.
  • Use opioids for acute pain only. We do not have the training to manage long-term use.

Meanwhile, OxyContin still is available and sold exclusively by Purdue Pharma. Before its patent expired, Purdue altered the formulation to make it harder to abuse when crushing the tablets. They then lobbied the FDA to block generic production of the original formula because it was “unsafe.” Though Purdue (under Mundipharma) now markets this original version in South America, Europe, and Asia.

Many lawsuits have been brought against Purdue. Even with such high-profile lawyers as Rudy Giuliani and Eric Holder, Purdue has paid more than $600 million in fines and pleaded guilty to marketing OxyContin with “the intent to defraud or mislead.” Three Purdue executives have pleaded guilty to criminal misdemeanor charges.

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