New and persistent opioid use is a common complication of surgery in patients with early-stage cancer, according to results of a retrospective cohort study.

The risk of new persistent opioid use was 10.4% (95% confidence interval, 10.1%-10.7%) among patients undergoing curative-intent cancer surgery, according to the report, which was based on examination of 68,463 deidentified insurance claims from employer health plans from 2010 to 2014.

“This problem requires changes to prescribing guidelines and patient counseling during the surveillance and survivorship phases of care,” wrote Jay Soong-Jin Lee, MD, and his colleagues at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (J Clin Oncol. 2017 Oct 19. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2017.74.1363 ).

One year after the surgery, patients who developed new persistent opioid use were still filling prescriptions at high daily opioid doses, equivalent to six hydrocodone 5-mg tablets per day, according Dr. Lee and his colleagues.

“This dose is similar to intermittent and chronic opioid users [in the insurance claim data], suggesting that patients with new persistent opioid use may transition to chronic opioid use,” they said in the study report.

Adjuvant chemotherapy was a “strong risk factor” for new persistent opioid use, they added, though use was still common among patients who had no adjuvant chemotherapy. Rates of new persistent opioid use ranged from 15% to 21% for adjuvant therapy patient groups, compared with 7%-11% for no advjuvant therapy, data show.

Previous studies suggested a 6%-8% risk of new persistent opioid use among surgical patients, but those studies either did not focus on cancer patients or excluded them entirely, Dr. Lee and his coauthors noted.

Strategies are needed to combat new persistent opioid use after curative-intent surgery, they added.

They recommended further study to develop evidence-based guidelines to reduce excessive opioid prescribing and screening tools to identify at-risk patients (e.g., those with psychosocial factors).

Surgeons should be more active in counseling patients on the potential risks of opioids and how to keep use to a minimum after surgery, they added.

“Given the high risk of new persistent opioid use in this population, physicians should consider universal precautions … including educating patients on safe use, storage, and disposal,” they wrote.

Dr. Lee disclosed no relationships relevant to the study, while several coauthors reported relationships with Neuros Medical, Merck, and Anesthesia Associates of Ann Arbor.


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