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US Hospitals Fail to Properly Monitor Patients Who Receive Opioids for Pain

New research shows that three-quarters of all hospitalized patients who get opioids to deal with their pain are not properly monitored by hospital staff.

The study, “Avoiding Adverse Events Secondary to Opioid-Induced Respiratory Depression,” was conducted by Carla Jungquist, a nursing researcher and assistant professor at the University at Buffalo School of Nursing, and published in the Journal of Nursing Administration.

Jungquist began the study because she suspected that hospitals have not implemented enough safety measures to protect against prescription painkiller overdoses. This is a very serious problem, said Jungquist, because US hospitals have become extremely “aggressive” when it comes to pain management and prescribing opioids to minimize a patient’s pain.

The reality is that many people who end up in the hospital or the emergency room desperately need some kind of pain medication, whether it’s for postoperative relief or simply to deal with whatever ailment brought them to the hospital in the first place. Unfortunately, researchers said, patients who receive opioids through intravenous infusions in order to help with their pain management are often not monitored for adverse reactions to the prescription medication.

According to the study, fewer than 27 percent of hospitalized patients were adequately monitored after undergoing surgery and receiving pain medication. Researchers looked at more than 4,000 patient records from eight different hospitals and found that nurses often failed to properly monitor patients’ blood oxygen saturation, respiratory rates, and levels of sedation following surgery.

One of the risks of using pain medications is that they can lead to overdoses and, in the worst cases, deadly respiratory depression. Medical experts have said that postoperative patients are typically at the greatest risk of this kind of adverse health reaction, especially during the first 48 hours after being operated on. That’s because opioids and anesthesia can have a potentially deadly effect when they are combined and interact in a patient’s body.

The solution for ineffective pain management of patients, concluded the study, is to ease the workloads for nurses at hospitals. Jungquist said that far too many nurses at U.S. hospitals end up being overworked because the medical facilities are understaffed.

For further information, see the MedicalXpress.com article, “Poor Compliance by Hospitals Places Patients at Risk for Opioid-Induced Respiratory Depression.”


If you or a loved one has suffered an illness or sustained a personal injury as a result of the negligent treatment of a doctor, physician or nurse, you should talk to a skilled medical malpractice lawyer. The NJ personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys at Drazin and Warshaw, P.C. have more than 70 years of combined experience handling medical malpractice cases. Contact us now to schedule a free consultation.

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