Since 1999, nearly 841,000 individuals have died from overdoses, 29% involving prescription opioids. Use of opioids for postoperative pain lacks evidence-based guidelines, and despite studies showing the efficacy of nonopioid agents in reducing postoperative morbidity, opioids are still routinely prescribed. However, multiple states are adopting prescription drug monitoring programs and prescription drug laws. The authors sought to investigate recent opioid prescription patterns among plastic surgeons.
This cross-sectional study used “Medicare Provider Utilization and Payment Data: Part D Prescriber” provided by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services from 2016 to 2018. Entries were filtered to include plastic surgeons. Demographic variables included surgeon sex, geographic region and state, board certification status, and length of experience. The surgeon's practice was designated as academic, private, or both. Outcomes included total opioid claims, opioid prescriber rate, and days per claim. Kruskal-Wallis tests were used for statistical comparison (α = .05).
From 2016 to 2018, plastic surgeons wrote 289,525 opioid prescriptions for 1,729,523 days (6.0 days per prescription), totaling $3,346,979.39. In 2018, 62.2% of plastic surgeons prescribed 0 to 10 opioids, 36.5% prescribed 11 to 50 opioids, and 1.3% prescribed more than 50. Furthermore, 99.5% of plastic surgeons prescribing opioids are practicing in metropolitan areas (rural-urban commuting area codes 1–3). Plastic surgeons who were male or were board certified had significantly lower opioid prescriber rates (P < 0.001). There were no significant variations in outcomes by length of surgeon experience. Geographic region was significantly associated with opioid prescription rates and days per claim, with Southern plastic surgeons having lower rates (P < 0.001) and those Northeastern ones prescribing shorter courses (P = 0.004). The number of opioid claims, days per claim, and opioid prescriber rates were all significantly lower in 2018 than in 2017 and 2016 (P < 0.001).
Prescriptions written by plastic surgeons may have contributed to the opioid epidemic, but 2018 data suggest opioids are becoming less routine in postoperative pain control. Further studies are warranted to assess factors related to reduced and shorter opioid prescriptions by plastic surgeons in the South and Northeast, respectively. Such insight, if adopted into law and implemented into clinical practice, may help reduce the burden of the opioid epidemic.