Opioids Prescribed After Low-Risk Surgical Procedures in the United States, 2004-2012

In JAMA, Hannah Wunsch and colleagues, including Mark Neuman, document the rising use of opioids prescribed after low-risk surgical procedures in the US. Using data from commercially insured patients, they tracked opioid use in more than 150,000 adults undergoing one of four low-risk procedures in 2004, 2008 and 2012: carpal tunnel release, laparoscopic cholecystectomy, inguinal hernia repair, or knee arthroscopy. Overall, 80% of all patients filled a prescription for an opioid within 7 days after hospital discharge or after the procedure, and 86.4% of the prescriptions were for hydrocodone/acetaminophen or oxycodone/acetaminophen. Neuman and colleagues find an increase both in terms of the percentage of patients who received any opioid and the amount of opioid dispensed for each patient. The proportion of patients filling opioid prescriptions increased each year for each procedure. Further, for those who filled a prescription for hydrocodone/acetaminophen or oxycodone/acetaminophen, the average daily dose increased over time. Postsurgical use of opioids should be assessed for its contribution to the current epidemic of opioid misuse.