Implementing a Postoperative Opioid-Prescribing Protocol Significantly Reduces the Total Morphine Milligram Equivalents Prescribed

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Abstract

Background:

Opioid-prescribing patterns have been implicated as a contributing factor to the opioid epidemic, yet few evidence-based guidelines exist to assist health-care providers in assessing and possibly modifying their prescribing practices.

Methods:

Five orthopaedic hand surgeons at a level-I trauma center developed a postoperative prescribing guideline for 25 common hand and upper-extremity outpatient procedures, which were delineated into 5 tiers. Postoperative opioid prescriptions in a 3-month period after implementation of the protocol were compared with those from a 3-month period before implementation of the protocol.

Results:

There were 231 patients in the pre-implementation group and 287 patients in the post-implementation group. Each individual opioid protocol tier showed a significant decrease in the mean morphine milligram equivalents (MME) prescribed, ranging from a minimum decrease of 97.8% to a maximum decrease of 176.0%. After implementation, adherence to protocol was achieved in 55.1% of patients; the MME amounts prescribed were below protocol for 28.6% and above for 16.4%. The number of additional opioid prescriptions in the 1-month postoperative period was significantly less in the post-implementation group than in the pre-implementation group (p < 0.001). The total number of pills prescribed was reduced by a theoretical equivalent of over three thousand 5-mg oxycodone pills for the 287 patients in the 3-month period.

Conclusions:

By utilizing a simple consensus protocol, we have demonstrated success diminishing the number of opioids prescribed without leading to an increase in the number of secondary prescriptions written by our providers. These findings are encouraging and suggest that fewer opioids were left in the possession of patients, leaving fewer pills vulnerable to misuse, abuse, and diversion.

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