Surgery patients use only one-quarter of prescribed opioids, and prescription size matters

Many surgeons write opioid prescriptions four times larger than what their patients will actually use after common procedures, according to a new study in JAMA Surgery.

Many surgeons write opioid prescriptions four times larger than what their patients will actually use after common procedures, according to a new study in JAMA Surgery. The research also indicates that the size of that prescription was the strongest predictive factor of how many opioids the patient will take, more so than their pain scores, the intensity of their operation, and personal factors. The study examined data from more than 2,300 individuals who had one of 12 different common operations at 33 Michigan hospitals. On average, patients took just 27% of all opioids prescribed to them, but for every 10 additional tablets prescribed, patients took 5 of them. "It's striking to see the major discrepancy between prescribed amount and the amount patients actually take," said Joceline Vu, MD, senior author of the paper. "This is not a phenomenon of a few outlier surgeons—it was seen across the state, and across many operations." Ryan Howard, MD, the paper's first author, said: "We hope that by shining a spotlight on the difference between prescription size and actual use, we can empower surgeons to change their prescribing habits, and be a better steward to both their patient and the broader community."