Preoperative Opioid Use: A Risk Factor for Poor Return to Work Status After Single-level Cervical Fusion for Radiculopathy in a Workers’ Compensation Setting

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Study Design:

Retrospective comparative case-control study.


The objectives of this study are: (1) How preoperative opioid use impacts RTW status after single-level cervical fusion for radiculopathy? and (2) What are other postsurgical outcomes affected by preoperative opioid use?

Summary of Background Data:

Opioid use has increased significantly in the past decade. The use of opioids has a drastic impact on workers’ compensation population, an at-risk cohort for poorer surgical and functional outcomes than the general population.

Methods and Materials:

Data was retrospectively collected from Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation between 1993 and 2011. The study population included patients who underwent single-level cervical fusion for radiculopathy as identified by current procedural terminology codes and International Classification of Diseases-9 codes. On the basis of opioid use before surgery, two groups were constructed (opioids vs. non-opioids). Using a multivariate logistic regression model, the effect of preoperative opioid use on return to work (RTW) status after fusion was analyzed and compared between the groups.


In the regression model, preoperative opioid use was a negative predictor of RTW status within 3-year follow-up after surgery. Opioid patients were less likely to have stable RTW status [odds ratio (OR), 0.50; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.38-0.65; P=0.05] and were less likely to RTW within the first year after surgery (OR, 0.50; 95% CI, 0.37-0.66; P=0.05) compared with controls. Stable RTW was achieved in 43.3% of the opioids group and 66.6% of control group (P=0.05). RTW rate within the first year after fusion was 32.5% of opioids group and 57% of control group (P<0.05).


Reoperation and permanent disability rates after surgery were higher in the opioid group compared with the control group (P<0.05).


In a workers’ compensation, patients with work-related injury who underwent single-level cervical fusion for radiculopathy and received opioids before surgery had worse RTW status, a higher reoperation rate, and higher rate of awarded permanent disability after surgery.

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