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Older adults who take opioids after minor surgery are more likely to become long-term opioid users compared with those who don’t receive a painkiller prescription after a minor procedure, suggests a new study.

The study included almost 400,000 adults ages 66 or older who had a low-risk surgical procedure such as cataract removal or varicose vein stripping. About 7 percent were prescribed an opioid such as oxycodone within a week of the surgery, and 7.7 percent were prescribed the drugs one year later, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Overall, patients who received an opioid prescription within a week of surgery were 44 percent more likely to become long-term opioid users within one year, compared with those who did not receive a prescription, the researchers report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study also found that patients who started taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) within a week of surgery were almost four times more likely to become long-term NSAID users compared with patients who did not have a prescription for those painkillers.

The researchers noted that some study participants probably had developed pain conditions that legitimately required the use of opioids. They added it is possible that use of these drugs after minor surgery created dependence in some patients. The researchers note that keeping unused bottles of painkillers in the home “presents a readily available source of opioid diversion among certain surgical patients.”

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