Prolonged opioid use after surgery (POUS), defined as the filling of at least 1 opioid prescription filled between 90 and 180 days after surgery, has been shown to increase health care costs and utilization in adult populations. However, its economic burden has not been studied in adolescent patients. We hypothesized that adolescents with POUS would have higher health care costs and utilization than non-POUS patients.
Opioid-naive patients 12 to 21 years of age in the United States who received outpatient prescription opioids after surgery were identified from insurance claim data from the Optum Clinformatics Data Mart Database from January 1, 2003, to June 30, 2019. The primary outcomes were total health care costs and visits in the 730-day period after the surgical encounter in patients with POUS versus those without POUS. Multivariable regression analyses were used to determine adjusted health care cost and visit differences.
A total of 126,338 unique patients undergoing 132,107 procedures were included in the analysis, with 4867 patients meeting criteria for POUS for an incidence of 3.9%. Adjusted mean total health care costs in the 730 days after surgery were $4604 (95% confidence interval [CI], $4027–$5181) higher in patients with POUS than that in non-POUS patients. Patients with POUS had increases in mean adjusted inpatient length of stay (0.26 greater [95% CI, 0.22–0.30]), inpatient visits (0.07 greater [95% CI, 0.07–0.08]), emergency visits (0.96 greater [95% CI, 0.89–1.03]), and outpatient/other visits (5.78 greater [95% CI, 5.37–6.19]) in the 730 days after surgery (P < .001 for all comparisons).
In adolescents, POUS was associated with increased total health care costs and utilization in the 730 days after their surgical encounter. Given the increased health care burden associated with POUS in adolescents, further investigation of preventative measures for high-risk individuals and additional study of the relationship between opioid prescription and outcomes may be warranted.