Risk Factors for Persistent Opioid Use after Bunion Surgery

OrthoBuzz has previously reported on studies examining the narcotic-prescribing patterns of foot and ankle surgeons. New findings published by Finney et al. in the April 17, 2019 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery strongly suggest that the single most powerful and modifiable risk factor for persistent opioid use after bunion surgery was the opioid dose perioperatively prescribed by the surgeon.

The authors analyzed a US private-insurance database to identify >36,500 opioid-naïve patients (mean age, 49 years; 88% female) who underwent one of three surgical bunion treatments. Among those patients, the rate of new persistent opioid use (defined as filling an opioid prescription between 91 and 180 days after the surgery) was 6.2%, or >2,200 individuals. The authors found that patients who underwent a first metatarsal-cuneiform arthrodesis were more likely to have new persistent opioid use, compared with those who received a distal metatarsal osteotomy, which was the most common procedure performed in this cohort. Additional findings included the following:

  • Patients who filled an opioid prescription prior to surgery were more likely to continue to use opioids beyond 90 days after surgery.
  • Patients who resided in regions outside the Northeastern US demonstrated significantly higher rates of new persistent opioid use.
  • The presence of medical comorbidities, preexisting mental health diagnoses, and substance-use disorders were associated with significantly higher new persistent opioid use.

However, physician prescribing patterns had the biggest influence on new persistent opioid use. A total prescribed perioperative opioid dose of >337.5 mg (equivalent to approximately 45 tablets of 5-mg oxycodone) was the major modifiable risk factor for persistent opioid use in this cohort. The authors also pointed out that 45 tablets of 5-mg oxycodone “is a relatively low amount when compared with common orthopaedic prescribing patterns” (see related JBJS study).

As orthopaedic surgeons in all subspecialties rethink their narcotic-analgesic prescribing habits, they should remember that regional anesthesia and non-opiate oral pain-management protocols have had a positive impact on pain management while minimizing narcotic use. The smallest dose of opioids for the shortest period of time seems to be a good rule of thumb.

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