At a time when there is growing concern about opioid abuse, hospitals are increasingly embracing a much more powerful painkiller without clear benefits, explained Padma Gulur, MD, lead study author, of the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care at the University of California, Irvine.
Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), in Boston, launched the study after noticing a four- to fivefold increase in the amount of narcotics being prescribed for pain. They examined data gathered in the University Health Systems Consortium from 38 hospitals covering more than 1.3 million patients who were given either hydromorphone or morphine. The goal was to determine whether opioid choice influenced outcomes.
The initial assumption was that MGH physicians were simply being more aggressive in treating pain. The researchers decided to look at whether the shift to hydromorphone resulted in better patient outcomes, as measured by readmission rates and other benchmarks. They found that hospital use of hydromorphone rose 17% and 22% among medical and surgical patients, respectively, from October 2010 to September 2013.