Opioid use increased dramatically during the pandemic as patients waited for surgeries such as hip and knee replacements, research shows.
The University of Aberdeen study found that the number of patients using opioids while awaiting surgery was up 40% from pre-pandemic levels.
Wait times for surgery were on average 90 days longer at the height of the pandemic, as hospitals focused on providing acute care.
Long-term use of opioids before surgery is associated with an increased risk of complications from the operation, poorer outcomes, and continued opioid dependence, the researchers said.
HuffPost UK has previously reported on the increase in opioid use in the UK, which includes drugs such as morphine and strong codeine, which are only available by prescription.
The number of opioid drugs prescribed to patients in England has steadily increased since 2010, and prescription numbers are higher in poorer areas than in wealthier areas.
Patients who developed prescription opioids explained how they got the drugs illegally when the prescriptions ran out. Man, prescribed codeine while recovering from a broken hand, lost his job, driver’s license and family, telling us opioid use “can ruin lives” .
Opioids such as morphine and tramadol are sometimes prescribed for the management of pain in conditions such as osteoarthritis. However, the latest study says there is growing evidence that it may have limited benefits and even harm long-term health, especially in older people.
Luke Farrow, clinical researcher at the Institute of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, who led the research, said other ways to manage severe arthritis pain must be found “urgently” for those who are waiting for this type of surgery.
“Our work provides evidence of the potential for an emerging opioid problem associated with the influence of Covid-19 on elective orthopedic services,” he said.
“With continued delays in the timely provision of total hip and knee replacements expected for some time due to the considerable backlog of patients awaiting surgery, patients will have to seek other treatment options to manage their symptoms.
“We would advocate that healthcare professionals and patients avoid the use of opioid drugs as much as possible due to the lack of known effect in this setting and the potential for harm.”
The study looked at data collected from 452 NHS patients in North East Scotland who were on the waiting list for hip and knee replacement surgery and compared the number of patients who had seen prescribing opioids with those who had had surgery before the pandemic.
The pandemic has led to the widespread postponement of elective orthopedic procedures, with hospitals focusing on acute care. The researchers said patients awaiting hip and knee replacement surgery, one of the most common elective procedures, were disproportionately affected.
HuffPost previously interviewed Adam, a 26-year-old from southwestern Scotland, who developed codeine addiction at the age of 19 after being prescribed it while recovering. knee reconstruction surgery.
When he realized he was getting addicted and weaned off the drugs, but in 2019 his GP re-prescribed him codeine while waiting for hip surgery. “I’m not in much pain,” said Adam, who chose not to share his last name. “I only take them for fun now. ”
Estimated figures suggest more than six million elective orthopedic procedures were canceled worldwide during the pandemic’s first peak.
Farrow added: “While these changes have served to flatten the curve and reduce some of the damage associated with Covid-19 infection, there has undoubtedly been an impact on patients whose elective procedures have been postponed. .
“Covid-19 has had a significant detrimental effect on access to hip and knee surgery, and work by others has suggested this has been associated with worsening pain and the quality of life of patients. “
The research is published in the BMJ Quality & Safety.