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Experts concerned about last year’s sudden increase in opioid use

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Last year, use of the heavy painkiller oxycodone increased sharply after years of decline. Fentanyl use also rose during the coronavirus pandemic. Experts are concerned that people using the drugs for extended periods of time might develop health problems or have trouble quitting, AD reports.

Experts are not sure why the long-term use of these heavy painkillers, which should usually only be used for short durations, is on the rise. However, it could have to do with the long waiting lists for operations at hospitals, said pain specialist Frank Wille. People could be self-medicating “as a bridge to surgery,” he suggested.

But experts caution that long-term use of the painkillers can lead to addiction, breathing problems and even death. “It’s no problem if they use it for acute pain after surgery. But after a week, you can get used to it and it can be difficult to stop,” said Marcel Bouvy, professor of Pharmaceutical Patient Care.

Loneliness from the coronavirus pandemic could also play a role in the sustained use of the painkillers, since they can also make people experiencing trauma feel better temporarily, said Kees Kramers, internist-clinical pharmacologist at Radboudumc and professor of Medicine Safety. However, no one knows the cause for sure, he said.

The Appropriate Use of Opioids task force, which has been striving to reduce the use of opioids for years, is trying to “shake people up again” and make them aware of the dangers. Patients should ask doctors how long they should take a prescribed painkiller and doctors should better describe the risks of prolonged use, advocates told AD.

“It is in everyone’s interest to prevent problematic opioid use as much as possible,” Karim Mostafi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, told the AD.

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