Children Often Prescribed Opioids: Study

Aug 8, 2019

3 in 5 children given opioids after tonsillectomy, contrary to academy guidelines

ScienceBeta – An analysis of insurance claims data found 60% of privately insured children undergoing tonsil removal received opioids, with the average prescription lasting from six to 10 days.

“Our findings suggest that it may be possible to reduce opioid exposure among children who undergo this common surgery without increasing the risk of complications,” says lead author Kao-Ping Chua, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher and pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

Surgery Complications Reduced?

Although these more powerful painkillers are often prescribed because they have been believed to reduce the risk of complications such as poorly controlled pain, researchers did not find evidence indicating that opioids protected children against those risks.

The study involved data between 2016 and 2017 from a private insurance database. Among 15,793 children (ages 1 to 18) who underwent a tonsillectomy, six in 10 had one or more filled opioid prescription.

Tonsillectomy is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in children.

American Academy of Otolaryngology guidelines strongly recommend non-opioids, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, for these procedures.

Chua says there are several possible explanations for why so many children still received opioid prescriptions despite these guidelines.

Among the biggest potential reasons is that the potent painkillers have been believed to provide superior pain relief and reduce risk of return visits for uncontrolled pain leading to dehydration.

Increased Constipation Risks

In the University of Michigan study, having a filled opioid prescription wasn’t associated with a difference in risk of return visits for pain or dehydration.

But it was linked to an increased risk of constipation and in at least one case, an opioid overdose, the study found. Read more. 

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