Postsurgical opioid prescriptions often lead to extra pills stored in unsecured locations in homes. This represents a potential source for non-medical opioid use and associated morbidity and mortality for patients and their families. But what is the optimal length of opioid prescriptions after common surgical procedures? To answer this question, the authors of a new study used data from Tricare, a federal healthcare program for military veterans. In a cohort study of more than 215,000 patients, the median observed prescription lengths were four days for general surgery procedures, four days for women’s health procedures, and six days for musculoskeletal procedures. To determine the upper end of opioids needed post-op, the authors examined prescription lengths associated with the lowest refill request rate. These were nine days for general surgery, 13 days for women’s health, and 15 days for musculoskeletal procedures. The authors determined that the optimal length of postoperative prescriptions falls somewhere between these two prescription lengths. They recommended: four to nine days for general surgery procedures, four to 13 days for women’s health procedures, and six to 15 days for musculoskeletal procedures (JAMA Surg 2017 Sep 27. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2017.3132).
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