The dramatic rise in the use of opioid painkillers over the past two decades has been fueled, in part, by doctors prescribing the drugs for pain when more conservative approaches should have been tried first. Now new research shows that doctors sometimes prescribe these powerful, potentially addictive drugs—including OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin—even when there’s no evidence of pain at all.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the RAND Corporation found that in 28.5 percent of doctor visits where physicians prescribed an opioid, there was no diagnosis related to severe pain. Instead, these patients were given the drugs when they were diagnosed with problems such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Here’s what you need to know about the new findings, and what you should consider if a doctor offers you an opioid prescription.