Addressing the opioid epidemic requires a concerted effort from all sectors of society, but the role of surgeons (orthopaedic and otherwise) cannot be ignored because they determine how best to manage postoperative pain for millions of patients. OrthoBuzz recently commented on two opioid-related studies from the July 18, 2018 issue of JBJS. In the August 1, 2018 edition of The Journal, Mohamadi et al. explain findings from a meta-analysis of 37 studies involving nearly 2 million patients that pinpoint several patient-related risk factors associated with opioid use beyond 2 months following surgery or trauma.
Using careful meta-analysis methods, the authors determined that about 4% of patients continued to use prescription opioids beyond 2 months after surgery or trauma. They also identified the following risk factors as being “among the most important predictors of prolonged opioid use” in these patients:
- Prior use of opioids or benzodiazepines
- Long-duration hospital stay
- History of back pain
Mohamadi et al. also calculated a “number needed to harm” (NNH) from their data. NNH indicates the number of patients with a certain risk factor that is necessary to result in 1 person with prolonged opioid use beyond that of a patient population without that risk factor. They found that for every 3 patients with a history of opioid use, every 23 patients with a history of back pain, every 40 with depression, or every 62 with a history of benzodiazepine use, 1 patient will continue to use prescribed opioids for an extended time period.
Because this meta-analysis was derived from observational studies, the authors caution that “causal inferences could not be drawn for the proposed risk factors.” But they do offer a practical piece of advice gleaned from prior research: Provide patients with an opioid-tapering plan at the time of discharge to significantly reduce the likelihood of prolonged opioid use.