Many patients receive prescription opioids at hospital discharge after surgery, yet little is known regarding how often these opioids go unused. We estimated the prevalence of unused opioids, use of nonopioid analgesics, and storage and disposal practices after same-day and inpatient surgery.METHODS:
In this prospective cohort study at a large, inner-city tertiary care hospital, we recruited individuals ≥18 years of age undergoing elective same-day or inpatient joint and spine surgery from August to November 2016. Using patient surveys via telephone calls, we assessed patient-reported outcomes at 2-day, 2-week, 1-month, and 6-month intervals, including: (1) stopping opioid treatment and in possession of unused opioid pills (primary outcome), (2) number of unused opioid tablets reported after stopping opioids, (3) use of nonopioid pain treatments, and (4) knowledge and practice regarding safe opioid storage and disposal.RESULTS:
Of 141 eligible patients, 140 (99%) consented (35% taking preoperative opioids; mean age 56 years [standard deviation 16 years]; 47% women). One- and 6-month follow-up was achieved for 115 (82%) and 110 patients (80%), respectively. Among patients who stopped opioid therapy, possession of unused opioids was reported by 73% (95% confidence intervals, 62%–82%) at 1-month follow-up and 34% (confidence interval, 24%–45%) at 6-month follow-up. At 1 month, 46% had ≥20 unused pills, 37% had ≥200 morphine milligram equivalents, and only 6% reported using multiple nonopioid adjuncts. Many patients reported unsafe storage and failure to dispose of opioids at both 1-month (91% and 96%, respectively) and 6-month (92% and 47%, respectively) follow-up.CONCLUSIONS:
After joint and spine surgery, many patients reported unused opioids, infrequent use of analgesic alternatives, and lack of knowledge regarding safe opioid storage and disposal. Interventions are needed to better tailor postoperative analgesia and improve the safe storage and disposal of prescription opioids.