Opioid Prescriptions by Surgeons for Post-Op Pain Relief Decline, but Progress Has Slowed

PainRelief.com Interview with:
Kao-Ping Chua, MD, PhD
Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center
Department of Pediatrics, University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor MI 48109

Dr. Kao-Ping Chua
Dr. Kao-Ping Chua

PainRelief.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Surgery is one of the most common reasons for opioid prescribing. Ensuring the appropriateness of opioid prescribing by surgeons is important, as prescriptions that exceed patient need result in leftover pills that can be a source for misuse or diversion. Although there have been numerous recent policy and clinical efforts to improve opioid prescribing by surgeons, recent national data on this prescribing are unavailable.

In this study, we analyzed a comprehensive prescription dispensing database that captures 92% of prescriptions from U.S. pharmacies. From 2016 to 2022, we found that the rate of surgical opioid prescriptions at the population level declined by 36%, while the average amount of opioids in these prescriptions declined by 46%. As a result of these two changes, the total amount of opioids dispensed to surgical patients declined by 66%.

However, there were two caveats:

First, the decline in surgical opioid prescribing was most rapid before 2020 and has slowed since then.

Second, the average surgical opioid prescription in December 2022 still contained the equivalent of about 44 pills containing 5 milligrams of hydrocodone, far higher than most patients need after surgery.

Last Updated on December 8, 2023 by PainRelief.com