August 24, 2020

Land of plenty (of opioids)

Surgical patients are being given more opioids than they need for postsurgical pain management, raising the risk of addiction.

Adult surgical patients in the U.S. and Canada who receive opioid prescriptions for postsurgical pain management tend to be given more pills than they need. On average, 61% of opioids prescribed to these patients are leftover at the time of postoperative assessment, according to a meta-analysis reported in Systematic Reviews by Lori Schirle, PhD, CRNA, Stephen Bruehl, PhD, and colleagues. The analysis draws on 44 observational studies published from 2000 to 2018.  

The type of surgical procedure and level of invasiveness had statistically significant effects, with minimally invasive surgeries resulting in a greater proportion of opioids leftover. 

The authors note that previous studies have shown that opioid prescribing varies widely across providers and the more pills patients receive, the more they tend to consume, raising the risk of addiction. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 46,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2018.

Joining the study were Amanda Stone, PhD, Matthew Morris, PhD, Sarah Osmundson, MD, MS, Philip Walker, MLIS, MSHI, and Mary Dietrich, PhD, MS. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants TR002371, DA037891).