Opioid Medication Use in the Surgical Patient: An Assessment of Prescribing Patterns and Use

Wen Hui Tan, Jennifer Yu, Sara Feaman, Jared M. McAllister, Lindsey G. Kahan, Mary A. Quasebarth, Jeffrey A. Blatnik, J. Christopher Eagon, Michael M. Awad, L. Michael Brunt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Background: With the epidemic of prescription opioid abuse in the US, rates of opioid-related unintentional deaths have risen dramatically. However, few data exist comparing postoperative opioid prescriptions with patient use. We sought to better elucidate this relationship in surgical patients. Study Design: A prospective cohort study was conducted of narcotic-naïve patients undergoing open and laparoscopic abdominal procedures on a minimally invasive surgery service. During the first 14 post-discharge days and at their first postoperative clinic visit, patients recorded pain scores and number of opioid pills taken. Clinical data were extracted from the medical record. Descriptive statistics were used in data analysis. Results: From 2014 through 2017, one hundred and seventy-six patients completed postoperative pain surveys. Mean age was 60.4 ± 14.9 years and sex was distributed equally. Most patients (69.9%) underwent laparoscopic procedures. Hydrocodone-acetaminophen was the most commonly prescribed postoperative pain medication (118 patients [67.0%]), followed by oxycodone-acetaminophen (26 patients [14.8%]). Patients were prescribed a median of 150 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) (interquartile range [IQR] 150 to 225 MME), equivalent to twenty 5-mg oral oxycodone pills (IQR 20 to 30 pills). However, by their first postoperative visit, they had only taken a median 30 MME (IQR 10 to 90 MME), or 4 pills (IQR 1.3 to 12 pills). Eight (4.5%) patients received a refill or an additional prescription for pain medications. At the first postoperative visit, 76.7% of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with their overall postoperative pain management. Conclusions: Postoperative patients might consume less than half of the opioid pills they are prescribed. More research is needed to standardize opioid prescriptions for postoperative pain management while reducing opioid diversion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-211
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American College of Surgeons
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2018


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