WASHINGTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Patients with traumatic injuries don’t appear to be at undue risk of sustained opioid use, a large database review has demonstrated.

More than half of the 13,000 patients in the study were discharged on opioids, but they were able to discontinue them fairly rapidly, Muhammad Chaudhary, MD, said at the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons. Within 3 months, less than one-third were still using the drugs, and 1 year later, only 1% were still taking an opioid pain medication.

“We found that sustained opioid use was very uncommon among these patients with moderate-severe traumatic injuries,” said Dr. Chaudhary, a postdoctoral research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston. “Furthermore, we didn’t find any association of opioid use with depression or anxiety.”

Dr. Chaudhary examined opioid use among 13,624 patients included in the Tricare military insurance database. The patients were treated for traumatic injuries they received during 2007-2013. Most of the patients were men (82%), and the largest age group was 18- to 24-year-olds (39%). Military rank was used as a proxy for socioeconomic status in this study: 15% of the cohort had an officer rank, while the rest were junior or senior enlisted personnel.

The group was very healthy, with a median Charlson Comorbidity Index score of 0. They were somewhat seriously injured, however. The median Injury Severity Score was 13, and the range was 9-17. Anxiety and depression were uncommon (9% and 7%, respectively).

More than half the patients (54%) were discharged on an opioid medication. That percentage dropped very rapidly. By 90 days after discharge, just 9% of patients were still taking the drugs. By 1 year, only 1% were using opioids.

Dr. Chaudhary conducted a multivariate analysis that controlled for a number of factors, including age, gender, marital status, rank, mental health status, injury severity, comorbidities, and treatment environment. Two factors – black race and younger age (18-24 years) – significantly increased the likelihood of early opioid discontinuation (8% and 11%, respectively). There were no significant interactions with anxiety or depression.

Junior enlisted personnel – the proxy group for lower socioeconomic status – and those with a prolonged length of stay were significantly less likely to get off the medications, Dr. Chaudhary said.

“While we strongly believe that these factors should not be used to determine who can get opioids, it might make sense to enhance perioperative surveillance and engage pain management services early on in patients with risk factors, to reduce the risk of sustained opioid use,” he concluded.

Dr. Chaudhary had no financial disclosures.

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