Patients who receive an opioid medication after surgery only use a small fraction of what they are prescribed, a finding that researchers say can make the drugs available for diversion and abuse.
Researchers examined about 2,400 patients who underwent one of 12 surgical procedures. On average, a patient used only 27% of the opioids they were prescribed, according to results published in JAMA Surgery. In addition, the size of a prescription was associated with taking more pills. Patients used an additional five pills for every 10 extra pills prescribed.
Results also showed that other factors, such as tobacco use, obesity and being in a poor physical state, were associated with higher opioid consumption after surgery. Among surgeries, patients who had a hernia repair took the most opioids. Patients who had their appendix or thyroid removed took the fewest. Also, older age was associated with taking fewer pills.
“These results may assist surgeons in using patient characteristics to provide opioid prescriptions that more accurately reflect a given patient’s analgesic needs following surgery,” the researchers wrote.