Variation of Opioid Prescribing Patterns among Patients undergoing Similar Surgery on the Same Acute Care Surgery Service of the Same Institution: Time for Standardization?



      Diversion of unused prescription opioids is a major contributor to the current United States opioid epidemic. We aimed to study the variation of opioid prescribing in emergency surgery.


      Between October 2016 and March 2017, all patients undergoing laparoscopic appendectomy, laparoscopic cholecystectomy, or inguinal hernia repair in the acute care surgery service of 1 academic center were included. For each patient, we systematically reviewed the electronic medical record and the prescribing pharmacy platform to identify: (1) history of opioid abuse, (2) opioid intake 3 months preoperatively, (3) number of opioid pills prescribed, (4) prescription of nonopioid pain medications (eg, acetaminophen, ibuprofen), and (5) the need for opioid prescription refills. The mean and range of opioid pills prescribed, as well as their oral morphine equivalent, were calculated.


      A total of 255 patients were included (43.5% laparoscopic appendectomy, 44.3% laparoscopic cholecystectomy, and 12.1% inguinal hernia repair). The mean age was 47.5 years, 52.1% were female, 11.4% had a history of opioid use, and 92.5% received opioid prescriptions upon hospital discharge. Only 70.9% of patients were instructed to use nonopioid pain medications. The mean and range of opioid pills prescribed were 17.4; 0–56 (laparoscopic appendectomy), 17.1; 0–75 (laparoscopic cholecystectomy), and 20.9; 0–50 (inguinal hernia repair), while the range of prescribed oral morphine equivalent was 0–600 mg for laparoscopic appendectomy/laparoscopic cholecystectomy and 0–375 mg for inguinal hernia repair. No patients required any opioid medication refills.


      Even within the same surgical service, wide variation of opioid prescription was observed. Guidelines that standardize pain management may help prevent opioid overprescribing.
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