Probability of Opioid Prescription Refilling After Surgery: Does Initial Prescription Dose Matter?

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We sought to determine the correlation between the probability of postoperative opioid prescription refills and the amount of opioid prescribed, hypothesizing that a greater initial prescription yields a lower probability of refill.


Although current guidelines regarding opioid prescribing largely address chronic opioid use, little is known regarding best practices and postoperative care.


We analyzed Optum Insight claims data from 2013 to 2014 for opioid-naïve patients aged 18 to 64 years who underwent major or minor surgical procedures (N = 26,520). Our primary outcome was the occurrence of an opioid refill within 30 postoperative days. Our primary explanatory variable was the total oral morphine equivalents provided in the initial postoperative prescription. We used logistic regression to examine the probability of an additional refill by initial prescription strength, adjusting for patient factors.


We observed that 8.67% of opioid-naïve patients refilled their prescriptions. Across procedures, the probability of a single postoperative refill did not change with an increase with initial oral morphine equivalents prescribed. Instead, patient factors were correlated with the probability of refill, including tobacco use [odds ratio (OR) 1.42, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.23–1.57], anxiety (OR 1.30, 95% CI 1.15–1.47), mood disorders (OR 1.28. 95% CI 1.13–1.44), alcohol or substance abuse disorders (OR 1.43, 95% CI 1.12–1.84), and arthritis (OR 1.21, 95% CI 1.10–1.34).


The probability of refilling prescription opioids after surgery was not correlated with initial prescription strength, suggesting surgeons could prescribe smaller prescriptions without influencing refill requests. Future research that examines the interplay between pain, substance abuse, and mental health could inform strategies to tailor opioid prescribing for patients.

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