Background: Physicians play a role in the current prescription drug-abuse epidemic. Surgeons often prescribe more postoperative narcotic pain medication than patients routinely need. Although narcotics are effective for severe, acute, postoperative pain, few evidence-based guidelines exist regarding the routinely required amount and duration of use post-hospital discharge.
Methods: Patients in a prospective cohort undergoing posterior spinal fusion for idiopathic scoliosis were asked preoperatively to rate their pain level, the level of pain expected each week postoperatively, and their pain tolerance. Post-discharge pain scores and narcotic use were reported at weekly intervals for 4 weeks postoperatively. Demographic data, preoperative Scoliosis Research Society (SRS)-22 scores, operative details, perioperative data, and self-reported pain levels were analyzed with respect to their association with total medication use and refills received. Disposal plans were also assessed.
Results: Seventy-two patients were enrolled, and 85% completed the surveys. The mean patient age was 14.9 years; 69% of the patients were female. The cohort was divided into 3 groups on the basis of total medication usage. The mean number of pills used in the middle (average-use) group was 49 pills. In postoperative week 4, narcotic usage was minimal (a mean of 2.9 pills by the highest-use group). Also by this time point, pain scores had, on average, returned to preoperative levels. Older age, male sex, a higher body mass index, and a higher preoperative pain score were associated with increased narcotic use. Sixty-seven percent of the patients planned to dispose of their unused medication, although only 59% of those patients planned on doing so in a manner recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Conclusions: Postoperative narcotic dosing may be improved by considering patient age, weight, sex, and preoperative pain score. The precise estimation of individual narcotic needs is complex. Patient and family education on the importance and proper method of narcotic disposal is an essential component of minimizing the availability of unused postoperative medication.
Level of Evidence: Prognostic Level I. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.
1Department of Orthopaedics, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
2Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Miami, Florida
3Department of Orthopaedics, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, Delaware
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