Post-Surgery Opioid Prescriptions Decline, But More Work Needed

Post-Surgery Opioid Prescriptions Decline, But More Work Needed – A new study reveals a significant decline in post-surgery opioid prescriptions over the past seven years, but it also highlights a worrying trend: the rate of decline has slowed since 2020. This underscores the need for continued efforts to right-size opioid prescribing after surgery and ensure patient safety.

Key findings:

  • Overall decrease: Between 2016 and 2022, the rate of surgery-related opioid prescriptions dropped by 36%, and the average amount of opioids prescribed fell by a substantial 46%.
  • Pre-pandemic acceleration: The study found a much faster rate of decline before the pandemic, underlining the potential for further progress. This finding is even more significant considering the disruption caused by the initial COVID-19 wave.
  • Remaining concerns: Despite the encouraging decrease, the average American surgery patient still received an alarming equivalent of 44 5-milligram hydrocodone pills in late 2022, far exceeding the actual needs for most procedures.
  • Specialty variations: The study identified significant variations in opioid prescribing practices across different surgical specialties. Notably, cardiothoracic surgeons and ophthalmologists achieved impressive reductions, while orthopedic surgeons still account for the largest share of opioid prescriptions.
  • Right-sizing imperative: The study emphasizes the need for right-sizing opioid prescriptions, meaning they should only be given when medically necessary and in amounts tailored to individual patient needs. This approach can significantly reduce the risks of opioid misuse, persistent use, and diversion.
  • Non-opioid pain care: The focus on right-sizing opioid prescriptions goes hand-in-hand with promoting effective non-opioid pain management strategies. This reduces the risk of accidental exposure to opioids by others in the household and minimizes the potential for harmful interactions with other medications or substances like alcohol.
Post-Surgery Opioid Prescriptions Decline, But More Work Needed
Post-Surgery Opioid Prescriptions Decline, But More Work Needed

Study details:

  • This research, led by a team from the University of Michigan, analyzed data from a comprehensive dataset covering 92% of U.S. pharmacies over seven years.
  • Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Benter Foundation, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.


  • The Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network (OPEN) has developed valuable prescribing guidelines for adult and pediatric surgical care, available at
  • This research highlights the urgent need for continued efforts to address post-surgery opioid prescribing practices. Surgeons, healthcare institutions, and policymakers must collaborate to implement effective strategies that ensure patient safety and contribute to combating the opioid crisis.

By taking a multi-pronged approach, including right-sizing prescriptions, promoting non-opioid pain management, and providing resources and support to healthcare providers, we can make significant progress in reducing the unnecessary use of opioids after surgery.

Call to action:

Surgeons need to continue efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions and ensure they are only used when necessary and in appropriate amounts. This will improve patient safety and combat the opioid crisis.

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