New Persistent Opioid Use After Minor and Major Surgical Procedures in US Adults | Substance Use and Addiction | JAMA Surgery | JAMA Network
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Original Investigation
June 21, 2017

New Persistent Opioid Use After Minor and Major Surgical Procedures in US Adults

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Pain Medicine, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
  • 2Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • 3Department of Surgery, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
  • 4Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
  • 5Injury Research Center, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
  • 6Veterans’ Affairs Center for Clinical Management Research, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • 7Michigan Center for Health Analytics and Medical Prediction, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
JAMA Surg. 2017;152(6):e170504. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2017.0504
Key Points

Question  What is the incidence of new persistent opioid use after surgery?

Findings  In this population-based study of 36 177 surgical patients, the incidence of new persistent opioid use after surgical procedures was 5.9% to 6.5% and did not differ between major and minor surgical procedures.

Meaning  New persistent opioid use is more common than previously reported and can be considered one of the most common complications after elective surgery.


Importance  Despite increased focus on reducing opioid prescribing for long-term pain, little is known regarding the incidence and risk factors for persistent opioid use after surgery.

Objective  To determine the incidence of new persistent opioid use after minor and major surgical procedures.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Using a nationwide insurance claims data set from 2013 to 2014, we identified US adults aged 18 to 64 years without opioid use in the year prior to surgery (ie, no opioid prescription fulfillments from 12 months to 1 month prior to the procedure). For patients filling a perioperative opioid prescription, we calculated the incidence of persistent opioid use for more than 90 days among opioid-naive patients after both minor surgical procedures (ie, varicose vein removal, laparoscopic cholecystectomy, laparoscopic appendectomy, hemorrhoidectomy, thyroidectomy, transurethral prostate surgery, parathyroidectomy, and carpal tunnel) and major surgical procedures (ie, ventral incisional hernia repair, colectomy, reflux surgery, bariatric surgery, and hysterectomy). We then assessed data for patient-level predictors of persistent opioid use.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was defined a priori prior to data extraction. The primary outcome was new persistent opioid use, which was defined as an opioid prescription fulfillment between 90 and 180 days after the surgical procedure.

Results  A total of 36 177 patients met the inclusion criteria, with 29 068 (80.3%) receiving minor surgical procedures and 7109 (19.7%) receiving major procedures. The cohort had a mean (SD) age of 44.6 (11.9) years and was predominately female (23 913 [66.1%]) and white (26 091 [72.1%]). The rates of new persistent opioid use were similar between the 2 groups, ranging from 5.9% to 6.5%. By comparison, the incidence in the nonoperative control cohort was only 0.4%. Risk factors independently associated with new persistent opioid use included preoperative tobacco use (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.35; 95% CI, 1.22-1.50), alcohol and substance abuse disorders (aOR, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.02-1.80), mood disorders (aOR, 1.25; 95% CI, 1.10-1.43), anxiety (aOR, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.09-1.42), and preoperative pain disorders (back pain: aOR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.08-1.36; arthritis: aOR, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.12-1.37; and centralized pain: aOR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.16-1.41).

Conclusions and Relevance  New persistent opioid use after surgery is common and is not significantly different between minor and major surgical procedures but rather associated with behavioral and pain disorders. This suggests its use is not due to surgical pain but addressable patient-level predictors. New persistent opioid use represents a common but previously underappreciated surgical complication that warrants increased awareness.