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Study Finds A Quarter Of ER Patients With Sprained Ankles Were Dished Opioids

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter

New research shows roughly 25 percent of patients going to the emergency room to treat a sprained ankle receive a prescription for opioid painkillers.

A study published July 24 in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine revealing prescribing habits of many doctors shows that opioid medication can often be given to patients who do not need them. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine said they chose to investigate sprained ankle injuries because most agreed it is something, “we would not give someone opioids for,” reports The Washington Post.

They reviewed 30,832 insurance claims made between 2011 to 2015, which they note came before state governments set prescribing limits and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines to prescribers encouraging them to avoid opioids. While the researchers note ER prescriptions likely only account for a small fraction of opioid abuse cases, it is still an area that the medical community can improve on. (RELATED: Study: States Might Be Undercounting Opioid Deaths By As Much As 70,000)

Opioid deaths are increasingly linked to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl, however, prescription opioids still accounted for more than 40 percent of opioid linked deaths in 2016, killing roughly 46 people each day.

“There was this leap to opioids, either in perception of patient expectations or to meet patient expectations,” Kit Delgado, assistant professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology at Penn and lead author of the study, told The Washington Post.

The researchers found the key to preventing abuse is in the number of pills initially prescribed. Five percent of patients who received a prescription of 30 opioid pills developed long-term opioid dependence, compared to just 1 percent of patients who received 10 pills or less.

Data released by officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on July 11 shows the majority of opioid-linked deaths are now the result of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

The report shows synthetic opioids killed roughly 27,000 people across the U.S. over the 12-month period ending November 2017, up from roughly 19,413 lives in 2016 and 9,580 lives in 2015. The sharp increase prompted a Health Alert Network warning from CDC officials advising of the ever-increasing presence of synthetic opioids in the drug supply, including in non-opioid narcotics such as cocaine.

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