KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For many it's the first stop on the road to addiction: an opioid prescription after surgery.
The pills may work, but they bring with them a long list of complications and the risk of addiction.
In fact, University of Tennessee Medical Center surgeon Dr. Gregory J. Mancini says patients who take a 30-day opioid prescription have a 20 percent chance of continuing to use the drug after the month is over.
That's why Mancini says he's trying to cut down on the amount of opioids he prescribes to the 600 or so patients he performs surgeries on each year.
"I think it's important to understand physicians play an important role. We are the prescribers," he said. "The opioids kind of made us a little bit maybe lazy."
He says growing medical research indicates patients can become addicted from even short-term prescriptions.
"We know now that it's a shorter period of time that it takes for somebody to be addicted," he said. "We also have no idea when a patient comes in what their individual risk might be."
And Mancini wants his fellow surgeons to explore options that don't include opiates to manage pain.
He said a combination of local injections and over-the-counter pain relievers can do the trick.
But he said changing the culture of prescribing pills for post-op pain is going to take time.
"If we can change how a patient feels about surgery and about pain and if we can change what physicians know about putting patients at risk, they can go to that conversation and talk honestly and they can decide what they can do without with regards to narcotics," he said.