1. Find an article and use it to describe the use of opioids by adults in the United States.

Possible student response: The Science News article “One in three U.S. adults takes opioids, and many misuse them,” published 8/1/2017, describes how widespread opioid use is in the United States. Researchers estimate that 91.8 million adults, or 37.8 percent of U.S. adults, used prescription opioids in 2015. About 11.5 million people misused opioids and 1.9 million people reported opioid dependence or abuse. For people who reported misusing opioids, 60 percent took the drugs without a prescription, 22 percent took larger doses than prescribed, 15 percent used the drugs more frequently than prescribed and 13 percent used opioids for longer than directed. About 66 percent of people who misused prescribed opioids and roughly 49 percent of people who were dependent on or abused prescribed opioids cited relieving physical pain as the reason for misuse. Less frequently reported reasons included relieving tension, getting high, sleeping, helping with emotions, experimenting and being hooked on opioids.

2. Can you find an article about opioid prescriptions for minor ailments? How can short-term opioid use affect people?

Possible student response: The Science News article “Even short-term opioid use can set people up for addiction risks,” published 5/19/2017, discusses opioid prescriptions and potential addiction after ankle sprains. Ankle sprains are minor injuries that usually require little treatment other than rest, ice, elevation and ibuprofen or acetaminophen for a few days. Yet 7 percent of some 53,000 people with ankle sprains who visited U.S. emergency rooms from 2011 and 2012 received prescriptions for opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. But rates varied by state. In Mississippi, for example, 16 percent of patients with ankle sprains were prescribed opioids. And in Delaware, for instance, just 2 percent of patients were prescribed the drugs. The prescriptions provided as few pills as five to more than 60. Patients who received 30 pills or more were twice as likely to get a refill for more pills than patients who received 15 pills or fewer. The study suggests that opioids should not be prescribed for ailments if not truly needed.

3. Find and summarize an article about the effectiveness of reducing the number of opioid pills prescribed after surgery.

Possible student response: The Science News article “What hospitals can do to help keep excess opioids out of communities,” published 1/20/2018, explores the effect of new opioid guidelines at a University of Michigan hospital. Patients who had their gallbladders removed were prescribed pills with 5 milligrams of the opioid hydrocodone. Before the new guidelines, patients received a prescription of 40 to 60 tablets after surgery, typically used only one to 12 tablets, and rated their average pain as five out of 10. After the new guidelines, patients received 15 tablets and were told to supplement those with ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Those patients typically only used zero to nine of the tablets, and still rated their average pain as five out of 10. These data suggest that the number of prescribed opioids could be greatly reduced without having a measurable effect on postoperative pain.