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New method reduces post-surgical opioid prescriptions by one-third

By Tauren Dyson
New method reduces post-surgical opioid prescriptions by one-third
Using pre-surgical counseling and advice on non-opioid options for pain control, researchers at 43 hospitals in Michigan reduced the size of opioid prescriptions by about one-third. File Photo by ragonmages/Shutterstock

Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Researchers have come up with a way to decrease pain in surgical patients without sending them home with dozens of opioid pills, new findings show.

Doctors at a Michigan hospital have reduced the amount of opioids prescribed to patients by nearly one-third, according to a research letter published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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The reduction is part a response to the opioid epidemic in the United States and an attempt to correct physician habits that may have contributed to the problem.

"These results happened because of the work of many members of the care teams at these hospitals -- surgeons, nurses, pharmacists and others all took it upon themselves to change their prescribing practices," Joceline Vu, a researcher at University of Michigan and research letter first author, said in a press release. "We hope that other hospital teams can learn from this effort, use the guidelines and patient education materials we've developed, and gather data on their current surgical opioid prescribing patterns and their own processes to achieve change."

Starting in 2016, the Michigan-OPEN researchers examined how prescription sizes influence opioid consumption habits in patients. They later developed evidence-based opioid prescribing guidelines which they tested on gallbladder surgery patients.

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For the new study, the researchers looked at prescription data for more than 11,700 patients who underwent surgeries at hospitals included in the Michigan Surgical Quality Collaborative. More than half of those patients completed surveys reporting on their pain and opioid use following their procedures.

After a year, doctors at 43 hospitals throughout Michigan managed to lower the number of opioids prescribed to patients who underwent nine common surgical procedures from an average of 26 to 18 pills.

The patients reportedly took only half the pills prescribed to them, even though they felt a higher level of post-surgery pain. The researchers credit pre-surgical counseling about pain expectation and alternative pain control methods to the reduction in opioid use.

Since the study concluded, the researchers have added 15 more surgeries that require fewer opioids to be prescribed to patients.

"Just as the airline industry sees every flight as a learning opportunity, and a chance to identify new practices to implement quickly, we can do the same in medicine to identify issues, get data, create recommendations, implement them and continuously evaluate how to improve," Vu said.

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