Are We Overprescribing Opiates to Some Pediatric Patients?

How much opioid analgesia do pediatric patients need after closed reduction and percutaneous pinning of a supracondylar humeral fracture? Not as much as they are being prescribed, suggests a study of 81 kids (mean age of 6 years) by Nelson et al. in the January 16, 2019 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.

All patients in the study underwent closed reduction and percutaneous pinning at a single pediatric trauma center. The authors collected opioid utilization data and pain scores (using the Wong-Baker FACES scale) for postoperative days 1 to 7, 10, 14, and 21 via a text-message system, with automated text queries sent to the phones of the parents/guardians of the patients. (Click here for another January 16, 2019 JBJS study that relied on text messaging.)

Not surprisingly, the mean postoperative pain ratings were highest on the morning of postoperative day 1, but even those were only 3.5 out of a possible 10. By postop day 3, the mean pain rating decreased to <2. As you’d expect, postoperative opioid use decreased in parallel to reported pain.

Overall, patients used only 24% of the opioids they were prescribed after surgery. (See related OrthoBuzz post about the discrepancy between opioids prescribed and their actual use by patients.) Considering that pain levels and opioid usage decreased in this patient population to clinically unimportant levels by postoperative day 3, the authors conclude that “opioid prescriptions containing only 7 doses would be sufficient for the majority of [pediatric] patients after closed reduction and percutaneous pinning without compromising analgesia.”

Now that some normative data such as these are available, Nelson et al. “encourage orthopaedic surgeons treating these common [pediatric] injuries to reflect on their opioid-prescribing practices.” They also call for prospective randomized studies into whether non-narcotic analgesia might be as effective as opioid analgesia for these patients.

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