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No change in postoperative pain with restrictive opioid protocol

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“A promising strategy” to reduce opioid prescriptions

The ultrarestrictive postoperative opioid prescribing protocol described in this study is a promising strategy for reducing opioid prescribing without increasing pain and limiting the potential for diversion and misuse of opioids. An important element of this protocol is the preoperative counseling, because setting patient expectations is likely to be an important factor in improving postoperative outcomes.

It is also worth noting that this study focused on patients undergoing major and minor gynecologic surgery, so more research is needed to explore these outcomes particularly among patients undergoing procedures that may be associated with a higher risk of persistent postoperative pain and/or opioid use. It is also a management strategy explored in patients at low risk of chronic postoperative opioid use, but a similar pathway should be developed and explored in more high-risk patients.

Dr. Jennifer M. Hah is from the department of anesthesiology, perioperative, and pain management at Stanford University (Calif.). These comments are taken from an accompanying editorial (JAMA Network Open. 2018 Dec 7. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5432). No conflicts of interest were reported.


Opioid prescriptions after gynecologic surgery can be significantly reduced without impacting postoperative pain scores or complication rates, according to a paper published in JAMA Network Open.

A tertiary care comprehensive care center implemented an ultrarestrictive opioid prescription protocol (UROPP) then evaluated the outcomes in a case-control study involving 605 women undergoing gynecologic surgery, compared with 626 controls treated before implementation of the new protocol.

The ultrarestrictive protocol was prompted by frequent inquiries from patients who had used very little of their prescribed opioids after surgery and wanted to know what to do with the unused pills.

The new protocol involved a short preoperative counseling session about postoperative pain management. Following that, ambulatory surgery, minimally invasive surgery, or laparotomy patients were prescribed a 7-day supply of nonopioid pain relief. Laparotomy patients were also prescribed a 3-day supply of an oral opioid.

Any patients who required more than five opioid doses in the 24 hours before discharge were also prescribed a 3-day supply of opioid pain medication as needed, and all patients had the option of requesting an additional 3-day opioid refill.

Researchers saw no significant differences between the two groups in mean postoperative pain scores 2 weeks after surgery, and a similar number of patients in each group requested an opioid refill. There was also no significant difference in the number of postoperative complications between groups.

Implementation of the ultrarestrictive protocol was associated with significant declines in the mean number of opioid pills prescribed dropped from 31.7 to 3.5 in all surgical cases, from 43.6 to 12.1 in the laparotomy group, from 38.4 to 1.3 in the minimally invasive surgery group, and from 13.9 to 0.2 in patients who underwent ambulatory surgery.

“These data suggest that the implementation of a UROPP in a large surgical service is feasible and safe and was associated with a significantly decreased number of opioids dispensed during the perioperative period, particularly among opioid-naive patients,” wrote Jaron Mark, MD, of the department of gynecologic oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, N.Y., and his coauthors. “The opioid-sparing effect was also marked and statistically significant in the laparotomy group, where most patients remained physically active and recovered well with no negative sequelae or elevated pain score after surgery.”

The researchers also noted that patients who were discharged home with an opioid prescription were more likely to call and request a refill within 30 days, compared with patients who did not receive opioids at discharge.

The study was supported by the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute and the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. Two authors reported receiving fees and nonfinancial support from the private sector unrelated to the study.

SOURCE: Mark J et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2018 Dec 7. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5452.

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