December 7, 2023

Postoperative opioid prescriptions falling, but more improvement needed

Editor's Note

A new study finds that while opioid prescriptions for postoperative pain relief have continued to decline, that downward trend has slowed since 2020, indicating the need for continued work to right-size opioid prescriptions for surgery patients. The findings were published by JAMA Network on December 7.

Researchers looking at pharmacy data found that the rate of surgery-related opioid prescriptions dropped by 36% from 2016 to the end of 2022, and the average amount of opioids in those prescriptions dropped by 46%. As a result of these declines, total opioids dispensed to surgical patients in late 2022 was 66% lower than in early 2016. 

While the trend is positive, the researchers noted that the rate of decline was much faster pre-pandemic and that, on average, surgery patients still received 44 five-milligram pills of hydrocodone following operations–much higher than most patients need. 

There were also marked differences in opioid prescribing depending on practice type. Cardiothoracic surgery and ophthalmology had particularly large reductions in these prescriptions, while orthopedic surgeons accounted for more than half of all surgical opioids dispensed to US patients.

JAMA (healthcare publication) Network logo


Join our community

Learn More
Video Spotlight
Live chat by BoldChat