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18 upstate hospitals, health centers agree to limit opioids prescribed after surgery

Ellen Abbott
WRVO Public Media
Dr. Jeffrey Albright.

Surgeons from 18 upstate hospitals and health agencies hope changing the way they prescribe medication can impact the opioid crisis. 

Dr. Jeffrey Albright, a surgeon at Upstate University Hospital, remembered when he was going through medical school almost 20 years ago.

"It was still the mantra that basically few people, after undergoing surgery and being started on narcotics, actually end up on addiction,” Albright said.

But that’s not what science is saying anymore. Researchers now know patients can become addicted to opioids that are sometimes prescribed by the dozens following surgery, and that has contributed to the continuing nationwide opioid crisis. Albright believes new post-surgery opiate prescription guidelines can prevent this particular gateway to abuse. Surgeons have reached a consensus on appropriate opioid levels for 21 different procedures, from knee replacements to hernia repair. 

"It used to be we’d give people anywhere from 20-50 tablets to go home with, depending on the operation,” Albright said. “Looking at the data, we’re trying to get that down to 5-20 tablets, depending on the severity of the operation.”

He expects the initiative to spread beyond the 18 hospitals and health centers that currently have joined.

"This is an issue and I think that probably every hospital at some point along the way will try to make sure that this is something that everybody focuses on, so we don’t continue to contribute to the problem,” Albright said.

Albright doesn’t expect much pushback from patients. He said many currently refuse opioid prescriptions because of a fear of addiction. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is working with surgeons on the new guidelines.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.