Reducing Opioid Exposure in a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Raymond C. Stetson, Brandi N. Smith, Nicole L. Sanders, Megan A. Misgen, La Rae J. Ferrie, Virginia S. Schuning, Allison R. Schuh, Jennifer L. Fang, Jane E. Brumbaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Introduction: Infants in neonatal intensive care units require painful and noxious stimuli as part of their care. Judicious use of analgesic medications, including opioids, is necessary. However, these medications have long- and short-term side effects, including potential neurotoxicity. This quality improvement project's primary aim was to decrease opioid exposure by 33% in the first 14 days of life for infants less than 1,250 g at birth within 12 months. Methods: A multidisciplinary care team used Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control methodology to identify root causes of the quality gap including: (1) inconsistent reporting of objective pain scales; (2) variable provider prescribing patterns; and (3) variable provider bedside assessment of pain. These root causes were addressed by two interventions: (1) standardized reporting of the premature infant pain profile scores and (2) implementation of an analgesia management pathway. Results: Mean opioid exposure, measured in morphine equivalents, in infants less than 1,250 g at birth during their first 14 days of life decreased from 0.64 mg/kg/d (95% confidence interval 0.41-0.87) at baseline to 0.08 mg/kg/d (95% confidence interval 0.03-0.13) during the postintervention period (P < 0.001). There was no statistical difference in rates of days to full feedings, unintentional extubations, or central line removals between epochs. Conclusions: Following the implementation of consistent pain score reporting and an analgesia management pathway, opioid exposure in the first 14 days of life for infants less than 1,250 g was significantly reduced by 88%, exceeding the project aim.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere312
Pages (from-to)E312
JournalPediatric Quality and Safety
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 26 2020


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