Associated Press

Roughly 6% of people who took opioid pain relievers for the first time following a surgery continued to take the drugs three months later, after pain would typically subside, a new study shows. The researchers estimated that each year as many as 2 million people in the U.S. could begin persistently using the drugs following a surgical procedure.

Why it matters: The U.S. is in the midst of an opioid epidemic — nearly 340 people died each week in 2015 by overdosing on prescription opioid pain relievers. There has been a tremendous amount of attention on opioid abuse stemming from chronic pain management but less is known about how the drugs are used after surgery.

Key stat: Millions of Americans undergo surgical procedures each year and close to 40% of opioid prescriptions are written by surgeons.

"[New chronic opioid use] is a complication of surgery," says study author Chad Brummett from the University of Michigan Medical School. "It is a problem physicians have created but also one physicians can fix."

The details: Reviewing 36,000 insurance claims from patients, the researchers found the 6% of people who continued to take opioid pain relievers months later did so regardless of whether they underwent major operations or minor surgeries. That suggests patients weren't continuing to take the drugs for pain related to surgery. Instead, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and pain disorders were more likely risk factors for chronic opioid use.

Second opinion: "People are getting surgery for a reason and whether the risk of prolonged opioid use outweighs the benefit of the surgery is a discussion for the patient and surgeon to have," says Stanford University professor Eric Sun.

Go deeper

Updated 36 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 30,199,007 — Total deaths: 946,490— Total recoveries: 20,544, 967Map
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 6,675,593 — Total deaths: 197,644 — Total recoveries: 2,540,334 — Total tests: 90,710,730Map
  3. Politics: Former Pence aide says she plans to vote for Joe Biden, accusing Trump of costing lives in his coronavirus response.
  4. Health: Pew: 49% of Americans wouldn't get COVID-19 vaccine if available today Pandemic may cause cancer uptick The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine — COVID-19 racial disparities extend to health coverage losses.
  5. Business: Retail sales return to pre-coronavirus trend.
Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Mike Bloomberg's anti-chaos theory

CNN's Anderson Cooper questions Joe Biden last night at a drive-in town hall in Moosic, Pa., outside Scranton. Photo: CNN

Mike Bloomberg's $100 million Florida blitz begins today and will continue "wall to wall" in all 10 TV markets through Election Day, advisers tell me.

Why it matters: Bloomberg thinks that Joe Biden putting away Florida is the most feasible way to head off the national chaos we could have if the outcome of Trump v. Biden remained uncertain long after Election Day.

Biden's hardline Russia reset

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Getty Images photos: Mark Reinstein

When he talks about Russia, Joe Biden has sounded like Ronald Reagan all summer, setting up a potential Day 1 confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin if Biden were to win.

Why it matters: Biden has promised a forceful response against Russia for both election interference and alleged bounty payments to target American troops in Afghanistan. But being tougher than President Trump could be the easy part. The risk is overdoing it and making diplomacy impossible.