Opioid medications, including morphine and oxycodone, are powerful pain relievers that have brought relief to countless patients suffering from severe pain.
However, they come with a double-edged sword – their addictive potential and the risk of fatal overdose.
The opioid crisis, predominantly seen in the U.S. and Canada, is now spreading its shadow over Europe, where opioid prescriptions have surged in the last decade.
Collaborative Research to Optimize Therapy
At Kantonsspital Baden’s hospital pharmacy and the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETH Zurich, a collaborative research project spanning over four years has been underway.
Led by Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology Andrea Burden at ETH, the project focuses on optimizing drug therapy for patients to minimize side effects, overdose risks, and drug dependence.
One facet of their research delves into re-hospitalization. An analysis of health insurance data revealed that patients prescribed opioid painkillers at discharge from the hospital had an increased risk of being re-hospitalized within 30 days.
This finding underscores the need for better care and support for patients receiving opioids.
Challenges of Long-Term Opioid Use
The analysis also revealed that about one-third of Swiss patients prescribed opioids by doctors continued taking the medication for over 12 months.
However, evidence suggests that opioids should not be used for prolonged periods to treat chronic pain due to the potential risks, including increased sensitivity to pain, hindered rehabilitation, and the risk of opioid use disorder.
Guidelines and Support
To address these challenges, the team is collaborating with clinicians, nurses, and primary-care practitioners to develop guidelines for the appropriate use of opioids in hospitals.
These guidelines will include strategies for tapering off opioid medications and support for patients during this process.
Patients receiving opioid painkillers will be provided with detailed information on proper medication use, including discussions with clinicians and informational leaflets.
The goal is to ensure that patients are well-informed about how to taper off opioid medication for acute pain properly. A study is underway to assess the effectiveness of different tapering strategies.
Responsible Opioid Use
The emphasis is not on withholding opioids from patients but on responsible use. Opioids should be used for short-term relief from acute, severe pain and should be combined with a clear exit strategy. Patients have the right to pain relief, but it should be administered responsibly.
The collaboration between Kantonsspital Baden and ETH Zurich benefits both sides. ETH gains access to patient data and the opportunity to conduct clinical studies, while practitioners benefit from research expertise to find answers to pressing questions in patient care.
Managing opioid use in hospitals is a vital approach to patient care, ensuring that the benefits of pain relief are maximized while minimizing the risks associated with these powerful medications.
Through collaboration and research, healthcare providers can develop guidelines and strategies to support patients on their journey towards recovery without opioids.
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