For several decades, opioids have been a common way to treat discomfort after surgery. But as the nation grapples with an ongoing addiction crisis, a group of surgeons have found a way to reduce opioid use without increasing patients’ pain.
A recent study shows how surgeons in Michigan cut back on opioid prescriptions. In one year, teams at 42 hospitals reduced by one-third the number of opioid pills prescribed after nine common procedures. That dropped the average number of pills prescribed per patient from 26 to 18.
To establish their findings, the researchers analyzed prescription data from more than 11,000 patients and more than 5,500 post-surgery surveys. As the number of prescribed pills dropped, patients’ ratings for post-surgery pain and satisfaction were unchanged from the prior six months. Patients ultimately took only half of the opioids that they were prescribed — even as the size of prescriptions dwindled.
How did the surgeons keep patients comfortable with fewer painkillers? The researchers attributed the drop to better pre-surgery counseling about nonopioid pain control options and pain expectations.
The findings build on prior research that led to evidence-based opioid prescribing guidelines for gallbladder surgeries. The guidelines were later expanded to include other procedures.
After finishing the most recent research, the Michigan team suggested that even smaller opioid prescriptions could be given for the nine procedures they studied.
The findings create an opportunity for hospitals nationwide to study their opioid prescribing patterns for surgical patients, which could help stem the tide of the opioid crisis.