Opioids In Trauma Care: Some Data

Yesterday I shared a TED Talk that outlined one person’s experience navigating the system (or lack thereof) for people trying to kick their addiction to medically prescribed narcotics. Today, I’ll share some new data that describes prescribing patterns and patient usage. This information was collected on patients after surgical procedures, not necessarily trauma, so this data may not be completely applicable. But it’s a start.

This paper is from the University of Vermont, and reviewed two datasets regarding opioid prescriptions. The first was a retrospective look at prescriptions written over a one year period after various surgical procedures in either an inpatient or outpatient setting at their center. This was used to design a patient telephone questionnaire containing questions about narcotic prescriptions and how much was used. The survey was administered about 1 week postop for patients having procedures over a 9 month period.

Here are the factoids:

  • Over 10,000 patients were identified in the retrospective arm of the study (!), of which 5100 were orthopedic procedures and 3100 were general surgery
  • 65% of patients were given only narcotic prescriptions on discharge, 24% were give no opioids, 3% were given only a Tramadol prescription, and 8% were given both
  • Residents wrote the vast majority of prescriptions at this academic medical center (63%), with 24% written by advanced practice providers and 13% by the attending surgeon
  • Drugs commonly prescribed in the retrospective data were oxycodone (44%, avg 30 pills), hydromorphone (31%, 25 pills), Tramadol (13%, 50 pills), and hydrocodone (8%, 20 pills)
  • There were considerable variations in prescribing patterns, drugs prescribed, and morphine equivalent doses provided across specialties
  • In the prospective data, the median amount of prescribed narcotic (in morphine equivalents) that was used was only 27%
  • Procedures associated with the highest amount of narcotic use were orthopedic in nature, particularly knee and shoulder operations

Bottom line: There is a huge amount of variability in prescribing patterns at one academic medical center, and this is probably true at most hospitals. There are a number of factors that contribute: the type of prescriber, local customary practices, type of surgery, and many more. Prescribers are not very experienced in predicting patient needs, and patients do not always do a good job communicating their needs to the clinicians.

In the next post, I’ll describe a suggested practice guideline that seeks to bring some sense to this complex topic.

Reference: Post-discharge opioid prescribing and use after common surgical procedures. J Am Coll Surg 226(6):1004-1013, 2018.

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