From the Journals

Persistent opioid use a risk after surgery in teens and young adults



For a subset of opioid-naive adolescents and young adults who received perioperative opioid scripts, those prescriptions were filled for months after the surgery, raising concerns about long-term risk for substance use disorder.

To get an idea of the teen opioid problem, from 1997 to 2012 for adolescents aged 15-19 years, the incidence of hospitalizations for opioid poisonings per 100,000 teens increased from 3.69 to 10.17, an increase of 176%, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics (2016;170[12]:1195-201). Adolescents are at a three to five time higher risk for serious medical outcomes when hospitalized with opioid poisoning, such as life-threatening symptoms or death, compared with younger children, according to a study reporting prescription drug exposures among children (Pediatrics. 2017;139[4]:e20163382).

Bottles of pills BackyardProduction/Thinkstock
In this study among 88,637 patients aged 13-21 years who had surgery and filled a prescription from 30 days before to 2 weeks after the operation, opioid use persisted for 4.8% of patients, compared with 0.1% of 110,432 patients using opioids in a control group who did not undergo surgery. Persistent opioid use was defined as one or more additional opioid prescription(s) filled between 90 and 180 days after the procedure. Persistent opioid use varied widely among several common procedures, ranging from 2.7% to 15.2%, according to the study published in Pediatrics.

These figures are concerning in part because “a significant association between medical use of prescription opioids alone in adolescence and subsequent nonmedical use of prescription opioids was observed at age 35 years” in a national longitudinal study reported in the journal Pain (2016 Oct;157[10]:2173-8), said Calista M. Harbaugh, MD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and her study coauthors.

The study in Pediatrics, which drew from a large national insurance claims database, found some patient characteristics had independent associations with increased risk of persistent opioid use. These included being female or older, as well as having a prior history of substance use disorder, chronic pain, or filling an opioid prescription preoperatively.

Dr. Harbaugh and her collaborators used a large national research database to select opioid-naive patients aged 13-21 years who received 1 of 13 surgical procedures. A total of 88,637 opioid-naive surgical patients were included in the study, with 110,432 control nonsurgical patients. The control group consisted of 3% of the database’s nonsurgical patients who met age and opioid-naivete criteria. Patients in both groups also had to have continuous insurance for the prior 12 months, not have had an opioid prescription filled within the prior year, and not have received any subsequent surgical procedures during the study period.

To be able to compare medication use among patients receiving different types of opioids, the opioid component of all prescriptions was converted to milligrams, and then used to calculate oral morphine equivalents (OMEs) for each prescription.

Although the most common procedures were tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy (35.9% of patients), arthroscopic knee repair (25.3%), and appendectomy, (18.6%), these were not the procedures that were most associated with persistent opioid use.

Overall, 7.1% of patients had an initial daily dosage greater than 100 OMEs for their first postoperative prescription. These high opioid doses were likely to be seen in patients undergoing three procedures known to have considerable postoperative pain: pectus repair, posterior arthrodesis, and supracondylar fracture fixation. However, patients undergoing these procedures weren’t more likely to have persistent opioid use than other surgical patients in the study, the researchers said.

Rather, cholecystectomy and colectomy had the highest risk for persistent opioid use, with adjusted odds ratios of 1.13 and 2.33, respectively. Dr. Harbaugh and her collaborators, in discussing the study’s findings, noted that these two conditions involve high levels of preoperative inflammation and are characterized by visceral pain. This scenario, they said, may set these patients up for visceral and central sensitization and present an increased risk for chronic pain.

Dr. Harbaugh and her colleagues called for preoperative screening for risk factors for persistent opioid use, so that at-risk patients can receive closer monitoring and attention. “We are not suggesting that … pain should be underappreciated or undertreated,” or that at-risk patients should not be prescribed opioids.

The investigators said that their work “points toward the multifactorial etiology of postoperative pain and its complex nature in both the short and long term.” They called for more work to “elucidate the mechanism that underlies new persistent opioid use after certain procedures,” as well as more efforts to better understand how best to use multimodal pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic pain control measures in the adolescent and young adult population.

The study was funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Harbaugh reported that she had no relevant financial disclosures. Some of the other investigators received grants from various agencies.

SOURCE: Harbaugh CM et al. Pediatrics 2018 Jan 1;141(1):e20172439

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