Question Can postoperative pain be appropriately managed after hospital discharge with minimal or no opioids in patients undergoing gynecologic and abdominal surgery?
Findings In this case-control cohort study of 1231 patients undergoing gynecologic oncology surgery, implementation of an ultrarestrictive opioid prescription protocol was associated with a significant decrease in the number of opioids dispensed at discharge. Using the ultrarestrictive opioid prescription protocol to manage postoperative pain was also associated with a significant decrease in the number of opioids dispensed during the entire perioperative period for opioid-naive patients without changes in postoperative pain scores, complications, or increases in the number of refill requests.
Meaning A reduction in the number of opioids dispensed for postoperative pain management is safe and attainable.
Importance Opioids are routinely prescribed for postoperative home pain management for most patients in the United States, with limited evidence of the amount needed to be dispensed. Opioid-based treatment often adversely affects recovery. Prescribed opioids increase the risk of chronic opioid use, abuse, and diversion and contribute to the current opioid epidemic.
Objective To evaluate whether after hospital discharge, postsurgical acute pain can be effectively managed with a markedly reduced number of opioid doses.
Design, Setting, and Participants In this case-control cohort study, an ultrarestrictive opioid prescription protocol (UROPP) was designed and implemented from June 26, 2017, through June 30, 2018, at a single tertiary-care comprehensive cancer center. All patients undergoing gynecologic oncology surgery were included. Patients undergoing ambulatory or minimally invasive surgery (laparoscopic or robotic approach) were not prescribed opioids at discharge unless they required more than 5 doses of oral or intravenous opioids while in the hospital. Patients who underwent a laparotomy were provided a 3-day opioid pain medication supply at discharge.
Main Outcomes and Measures Total number of opioid pain medications prescribed in the 60-day perioperative period, requests for opioid prescription refills, and postoperative pain scores and complications were evaluated. Factors associated with increased postoperative pain, preoperative and postoperative pain scores, inpatient status, prior opioid use, and all opioid prescriptions within the 60-day perioperative window were monitored among the case patients and compared with those from consecutive control patients treated at the center in the 12 months before the UROPP was implemented.
Results Patient demographics and procedure characteristics were not statistically different between the 2 cohorts of women (605 cases: mean [SD] age, 56.3 [14.5] years; 626 controls: mean [SD] age, 55.5 [13.9] years). The mean (SD) number of opioid tablets given at discharge after a laparotomy was 43.6 (17.0) before implementation of the UROPP and 12.1 (8.9) after implementation (P < .001). For patients who underwent laparoscopic or robotic surgery, the mean (SD) number of opioid tablets given at discharge was 38.4 (17.4) before implementation of the UROPP and 1.3 (3.7) after implementation (P < .001). After ambulatory surgery, the mean (SD) number of opioid tablets given at discharge was 13.9 (16.6) before implementation of the UROPP and 0.2 (2.1) after implementation (P < .001). The mean (SD) perioperative oral morphine equivalent dose was reduced to 64.3 (207.2) mg from 339.4 (674.4) mg the year prior for all opioid-naive patients (P < .001). The significant reduction in the number of dispensed opioids was not associated with an increase the number of refill requests (104 patients [16.6%] in the pre-UROPP group vs 100 patients [16.5%] in the post-UROPP group; P = .99), the mean (SD) postoperative visit pain scores (1.1 [2.2] for the post-UROPP group vs 1.4 [2.3] for pre-UROPP group; P = .06), or the number of complications (29 cases [4.8%] in the post-UROPP group vs 42 cases [6.7%] in the pre-UROPP group; P = .15).
Conclusions and Relevance Implementation of a UROPP was associated with a significant decrease in the overall amount of opioids prescribed to patients after gynecologic and abdominal surgery at the time of discharge for all patients, and for the entire perioperative time for opioid-naive patients without changes in pain scores, complications, or medication refill requests.