Persistent Opioid Use After Spine Surgery: A Prospective Cohort Study

Peter Uhrbrand, Peter Helmig, Simon Haroutounian, Simon Tilma Vistisen, Lone Nikolajsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Study Design.Single-center, investigator-initiated, prospective cohort study.Objective.This study aimed to determine patient-reported reasons for persistent opioid use following elective spine surgery, assess the frequency of withdrawal symptoms, and characterize pain-related care sought after discharge.Summary of Background Data.Patients are often prescribed opioids at discharge from hospital following surgery. Several studies have shown that a large number of patients fail to discontinue opioid treatment and use opioids even months to years after surgery. Spine surgery has proven to be a high-risk procedure in regard to persistent opioid use. There is, however, limited evidence on why patients continue to take opioids.Methods.Three hundred patients, scheduled to undergo spine surgery at Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark, were included. Baseline characteristics and discharge data on opioid consumption were collected. Data on opioid consumption, patient-reported reasons for opioid use, withdrawal symptoms, and pain-related care sought were collected at 3- and 6-month follow-up via a REDCap survey.Results.Before surgery, opioid use was reported in 53% of patients. Three months after surgery, opioid use was reported in 60% of preoperative opioid-users and in 9% of preoperative opioid non-users. Patients reported the following reasons for postoperative opioid use: treatment of surgery-related pain (53%), treatment of surgery-related pain combined with other reasons (37%), and reasons not related to spine surgery (10%). Withdrawal symptoms were experienced by 33% of patients during the first 3 months after surgery and were associated with failure to discontinue opioid treatment (P < 0.001). Half of patients (52%) contacted health care after discharge with pain-related topics the first 3 months.Conclusion.Patients use opioids after spine surgery for reasons other than surgery-related pain. Withdrawal symptoms are frequent even though patients are given tapering plans at discharge. Further studies should address how to facilitate successful and safe opioid tapering in patients undergoing spine surgery.Level of Evidence: 3.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1428-1435
Number of pages8
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 15 2021


  • cohort
  • opioid
  • pain treatment
  • postoperative pain
  • prospective
  • spine surgery


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