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Despite increased efforts and awareness to reduce opioid use in the surgical setting, nine out of 10 patients were prescribed an average of 85 pills in 2016. This resulted in 3.3 billion pills that went unused and available for misuse and distribution to communities at large.

These findings were released in September 2017 in a report (The United States for Non-Dependence: An Analysis of the Impact of Opioid Overprescribing in America) conducted by the QuintilesIMS Institute. It is the second phase of a research program that is following postsurgical opioid exposure, and is part of the Plan Against Pain campaign, designed to educate patients about their choices in managing pain following surgery.

The report analyzed the postsurgical data for prescriptions, sales, and drug quantities in a sample of 600 private hospitals for 7 outpatient and inpatient surgical procedures including hernia, total knee replacement, colectomy, hysterectomy, total hip replacement, sleeve gastrectomy, and rotator cuff surgery.

The report also found that 11.7 billion opioid pills were prescribed to Americans in 2016, enough to provide every man, woman, and child with 36 pills each. Furthermore, by reducing surgery-related opioid prescribing by 10%, a total of 332 million fewer unused pills would be available for misuse, and $830 million would be saved annually in drug costs alone.   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released opioid prescribing guidelines in March 2016, recommending that prescribers reduce the use of opioids in favor of safer alternatives, like physical therapy. Physical therapists treat pain through movement and exercise and partner with patients to improve or maintain their mobility and quality of life.

The American Physical Therapy Association launched a national campaign to raise awareness about the risks of long-term use of prescription opioids for pain and physical therapy as a safe, nondrug alternative to manage pain. Learn more at our Safe Pain Management page.

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