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Original Investigation
Pacific Coast Surgical Association
September 8, 2021

Patient-Centered Decision-making for Postoperative Narcotic-Free Endocrine Surgery: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of General Surgery, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California
  • 2Department of Biostatistics, UCLA School of Public Health, Los Angeles, California
  • 3Department of Medicine, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California
JAMA Surg. Published online September 8, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2021.4287
Key Points

Question  Does limiting opioid prescription to patients who request it (ie, opt-in program) decrease the quantity of opioids prescribed and consumed compared with patients given a routine prescription after outpatient cervical endocrine surgery?

Findings  In this randomized clinical trial of 102 adults undergoing thyroidectomy or parathyroidectomy, patients randomized to the opt-in program were prescribed less opioids without reporting worse postoperative pain scores or health-related quality of life. No patients who opted out required a rescue opioid prescription.

Meaning  In this randomized clinical trial, an opt-in strategy for opioid prescriptions after endocrine surgery was noninferior to use of routine prescriptions with respect to postoperative pain and reduced overprescription of opioids.


Importance  Historically, opioid pain medications have been overprescribed following thyroid and parathyroid surgery. Many narcotic prescriptions are incompletely consumed, creating waste and opportunities for abuse.

Objective  To determine whether limiting opioid prescriptions after outpatient thyroid and parathyroid surgery to patients who opt in to narcotic treatment reduces opioid consumption without increasing postoperative pain compared with usual care (routine narcotic prescriptions).

Design, Setting, and Participants  A randomized clinical trial of Postoperative Opt-In Narcotic Treatment (POINT) or routine narcotic prescription (control) was conducted at a single tertiary referral center from June 1 to December 30, 2020. A total of 180 adults undergoing ambulatory cervical endocrine surgery, excluding patients currently receiving opioids, were assessed for eligibility. POINT patients received perioperative pain management counseling and were prescribed opioids only on patient request. Patients reported pain scores (0-10) and medication use through 7 daily postoperative surveys. Logistic regression was used to determine factors associated with opioid consumption.

Interventions  Patients in the POINT group were able to opt in or out of receiving prescriptions for opioid pain medication on discharge. Control patients received routine opioid prescriptions on discharge.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Daily peak pain score through postoperative day 7 was the primary outcome. Noninferiority was defined as a difference less than 2 on an 11-point numeric rating scale from 0 to 10. Analysis was conducted on the evaluable population.

Results  Of the 180 patients assessed for eligibility, the final study cohort comprised 102 patients: 48 randomized to POINT and 54 to control. Of these, 79 patients (77.5%) were women and median age was 52 (interquartile range, 43-62) years. A total of 550 opioid tablets were prescribed to the control group, and 230 tablets were prescribed to the POINT group, in which 23 patients (47.9%) opted in for an opioid prescription. None who opted out subsequently required rescue opioids. In the first postoperative week, 17 POINT patients (35.4% of survey responders in the POINT group) reported consuming opioids compared with 27 (50.0%) control patients (P = .16). Median peak outpatient pain scores were 6 (interquartile range, 4-8) in the control group vs 6 (interquartile range, 5-7) in the POINT group (P = .71). In multivariate analysis, patients with a history of narcotic use were 7.5 times more likely to opt in (95% CI, 1.61-50.11; P = .02) and 4.8 times more likely to consume opioids (95% CI, 1.04-1.52; P = .01). Higher body mass index (odds ratio, 1.11; 95% CI, 1.01-1.23; P = .03) and highest inpatient postoperative pain score (odds ratio, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.04-1.52; P = .02) were also associated with opioid consumption.

Conclusions and Relevance  In this trial, an opt-in strategy for postoperative narcotics reduced opioid prescription without increasing pain after cervical endocrine surgery.

Trial Registration  ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04710069

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