Sept. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. doctors are more likely to prescribe opioids to patients after surgery than those in other countries, new research shows.
Over 75 percent of patients in the United States filled prescriptions within the first seven days following four low-risk surgeries, according to a study published Wednesday in Jama Open Network. That's compared to only 11 percent in Sweden.
"Our main finding ... confirms that there are marked differences in approaches to pain management across countries," Mark Neuman, a researcher at Penn Medicine and study corresponding author, told UPI. "The differences we observe in prescribing could be due to differences in cultural attitude towards pain and opioids, variations in how physicians are trained or other factors."
For the study, the researchers analyzed opioid prescription data for 129,379 U.S. patients, as well as 84,653 patients in Canada and 9,802 patients in Sweden, after seven and 30 days of discharge. The patients underwent laparoscopic cholecystectomies, laparoscopic appendectomies, arthroscopic knee meniscectomies and breast excisions. Their ages ranged from 16 to 64.
The researchers found patients in the United States had seven times the number of opioid prescriptions filled than Swedish patients.
Meanwhile, the study shows U.S. physicians often prescribe fewer less addictive pain relief alternatives. Only 3.5 percent of U.S. patients were prescribed tramadol, an opioid some medical professionals endorse as a "safe" because it's supposedly non-addictive. That's compared to 29 percent in Sweden and 18.5 percent in Canada.
Past research has shown the more opioids are prescribed to patients, the higher the risk they will become addicted.
"To be clear, our study can't definitively say that pain management is done 'better' in Sweden than in the U.S.," Neuman said. "I think that the comparison we present shows that there are different models of pain treatment after surgery that clinicians and patients in the US might be able to learn from."