A 7-day limit on the initial opioid prescription may be sufficient for many common general surgery procedures, including hernia surgery and gynecologic procedures, findings of a large retrospective study suggest.

Rebecca E. Scully, MD, of the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and her associates examined opioid pain medication prescriptions and refills from records of the Military Health System Data Repository and the TRICARE insurance program of 215,140 opioid-naive patients. These patients were aged 18-64 years who underwent either cholecystectomy, appendectomy, inguinal hernia repair, anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction, rotator cuff tear repair, discectomy, mastectomy, or hysterectomy (JAMA Surg. 2017. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2017.3132 ). Only 20% of the covered individuals are active members of the U.S. military. The mean age was 40 years; 50% were male, and 60% were white.

For appendectomy, cholecystectomy, and hysterectomy, the prescription was a median 4 days. For inguinal hernia repair, anterior cruciate ligament repair, rotator cuff repair, and mastectomy, the initial prescription was for 5 days. For discectomy, the median was 7 days.

The initial opioid prescription was a median 4 days for appendectomy and cholecystectomy, and a median 5 days for inguinal hernia repair. The prescription was a median 5 days for anterior cruciate ligament repair and rotator cuff repair, and a median 7 days for discectomy. The initial opioid prescription was a median 5 days for mastectomy, and a median 4 days for hysterectomy.

Refill rates were the least at 11.3% for cholecystectomy and the most at 39.3% after anterior cruciate ligament repair. The time after the initial prescription until a refill was a median 6 days for appendectomy, cholecystectomy, and inguinal hernia repair, compared with a median 10 days for discectomy. The median duration of a refill prescription was 4 days for appendectomy, cholecystectomy, hernia repair, and hysterectomy versus 8 days for discectomy.

“Although 7 days appears to be more than adequate for many patients undergoing common general surgery and gynecologic procedures, prescription lengths likely should be extended to 10 days, particularly after common neurosurgical and musculoskeletal procedures, recognizing that as many as 40% of patients may still require one refill at a 7-day limit,” Dr. Scully and her associates said.

Although this study did not include rates of unused prescriptions or use of nonopioid pain relievers such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs, it did include a large population considered to be nationally representative “in many respects,” and it included a variety of procedures for which patients are commonly discharged to home, the researchers said.

The study was funded in part by the Department of Defense/Henry M. Jackson Foundation. The investigators had no conflict of interests. Adil H. Haider, MD, MPH, is deputy editor of JAMA Surgery, but he was not involved in any of the decisions regarding review of the manuscript or its acceptance.


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