From the Journals

New opioid recommendations: Pain from most dermatologic procedures should be managed with acetaminophen, ibuprofen



Opioid pain management should be reserved for just 21 of the 87 most common dermatologic procedures, an expert panel of dermatologists has recommended.

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Rotation flaps, interpolation flaps, wedge resections, cartilage alar-batten grafts, and Mustarde flaps were among the 20 procedures that can be managed with up to 10 oral oxycodone 5-mg equivalents, according to the panel. Only the Abbe procedure might warrant dispensing up to 15 oxycodone 5-mg pills, Justin McLawhorn, MD, and colleagues wrote in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The recommended amount of opioids are in addition to nonopioid analgesics, the guidelines point out.

All the other procedures can – and should – be managed with a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen, either alone or in an alternating dose pattern, said Dr. McLawhorn, of the department of dermatology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, and coauthors.

But limited opioid prescribing is an important part of healing for patients who undergo the most invasive procedures, they wrote. “The management of complications, including adequate pain control, should be tailored to each patient on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, any pain management plan should not strictly adhere to any single guideline, but rather should be formed with consideration of the expected pain from the procedure and/or closure and consider the patient’s expectations for pain control.”

The time is ripe for dermatologists to make a stand in combating the opioid crisis, according to a group email response to questions from Dr. McLawhorn, Thomas Stasko, MD, professor and chair of dermatology at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, and Lindsey Collins, MD, also of the University of Oklahoma.

“The opioid crisis has reached epidemic proportions. More than 70,000 Americans have died from an opioid overdose in 2017,” they wrote. “Moreover, recent data suggest that nearly 6% of postsurgical, opioid-naive patients become long-term users of opioids. The lack of specific evidence-based recommendations likely contributes to a wide variety in prescribing patterns and a steady supply of unused opioids. Countering the opioid crisis necessitates a restructuring of the opioid prescribing practices that addresses pain in a procedure-specific manner. These recommendations are one tool in the dermatologists’ arsenal that can be used as a reference to help guide opioid management and prevent excessive opioid prescriptions at discharge following dermatologic interventions.”

Unfortunately, they added, dermatologists have inadvertently fueled the opioid abuse fire.

“It is difficult to quantify which providers are responsible for the onslaught of opioids into our communities,” the authors wrote in the email interview. “However, we can deduce, based on recent opioid prescribing patterns, that dermatologists provide approximately 500,000 unused opioid pills to their communities on an annual basis. This is the result of a wide variation in practice patterns and narratives that have been previously circulated in an attempt to mitigate the providers’ perception of the addictive nature of opioid analgesics. Our hope is that by addressing pain in a procedure-specific manner, we can help to limit the excessive number of unused opioid pills that are provided by dermatologists and ultimately decrease the rate of opioid-related complications, including addiction and death.”

Still, patients need and deserve effective pain management after a procedure. In the guidelines, the investigators wrote that a “one-size-fits-all” approach “does not account for the mechanism of pain, the invasiveness of the procedure, or the anatomic structures that are manipulated. As a result, current guidelines cannot accurately predict the quantity of opioids that are necessary to manage postoperative pain.”

The panel brought together experts in general dermatology, dermatologic surgery, cosmetics, and phlebology to develop a consensus on opioid prescribing guidelines for 87 of the most common procedures. Everyone on the panel was a member of the American College of Mohs Surgery, American Academy of Dermatology, or the American Vein and Lymphatic Society. The panel conducted a literature review to determine which procedures might require opioids and which would not. At least 75% of the panel had to agree on a reasonable but effective opioid amount; they were then polled as to whether they might employ that recommendation in their own clinical practice.

The recommendations are aimed at patients who experienced no peri- or postoperative complications.

The panel agreed that acetaminophen and ibuprofen – alone, in combination, or with opioids – were reasonable choices for all the 87 procedures. In such instances, acetaminophen 1 g can be staggered with ibuprofen 400 mg every 4 or 8 hours.

“I think providers will encounter a mixed bag of preconceived notions regarding patients’ expectations for pain control,” Dr. McLawhorn and coauthors wrote in the interview. “The important point for providers to make is to emphasize the noninferiority of acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen in controlling acute pain for patients who are not dependent on opioids for the management of chronic pain. Our experience in caring for many surgical patients has shown that patients are usually receptive to the use of nonopioid analgesics as many are familiar with their addictive potential because of the uptick in the publicity of the opioid-related complications.”

In cases where opioids might be appropriate, the panel unanimously agreed that dose limits be imposed. For 15 of the 87 procedures, the panel recommend a maximum prescription of 10 oxycodone 5-mg equivalents. Only one other – the Abbe flap – might warrant more, with a maximum of 15 oxycodone 5-mg pills at discharge.

Sometimes called a “lip switch,” the Abbe flap is reconstruction for full-thickness lip defects. It is a composite flap that moves skin, muscle, mucosa, and blood supply from the lower lip to reconstruct a defect of the upper lip. This reconstruction attempts to respect the native anatomic landmarks of the lip and allow for a better functional outcome.

“Because of the extensive nature of the repair and the anatomic territories that are manipulated, including the suturing of the lower lip to the upper lip with delayed separation, adequate pain control may require opioid analgesics in the immediate postoperative period,” the team wrote in the interview.

The panel could not agree on pain management strategies for five other procedures: Karapandzic flaps, en bloc nail excisions, facial resurfacing with deep chemical peels, and small- or large-volume liposuction. This was partly because of a lack of personal experience. Only 8 of the 40 panelists performed Karapandzic flaps. The maximum number of 5-mg oxycodone tablets any panelist prescribed for Karapandzic flaps and en bloc nail excisions was 20.

Facial resurfacing was likewise an uncommon procedure for the panel, with just 11 members performing this using deep chemical peels. However, five of those panelists said that opioids were routinely needed for postoperative pain with a maximum of 15 oxycodone 5-mg equivalents. And just four panelists performed liposuction, for which they used a maximum of 15 oxycodone 5-mg equivalents.

“However,” they wrote in the guidelines, “these providers noted that the location where the procedure is performed strongly influences the need for opioid pain management, with small-volume removal in the neck, arms, or flanks being unlikely to require opioids for adequate pain control, whereas large-volume removal in the thighs, knees, and hips may routinely require opioids.”

Addressing patient expectations is a very important part of pain management, the panel noted. “Patients will invariably experience postoperative pain after cutaneous surgeries or other interventions, often peaking within 4 hours after surgery. Wound tension, size and type of repair, anatomical location/nerve innervation, and patient pain tolerance are all factors that contribute to postoperative discomfort and should be considered when developing a postoperative pain management plan.”

Ultimately, according to Dr. McLawhorn and coauthors, the decision to use opioids at discharge for postoperative pain control should be an individual one based on patients’ comorbidities and expectations.

“Admittedly, many of the procedures listed within the recommendations may result in a rather large or complex defect that requires an equally large or complex repair,” they wrote in the interview. “However, proper education of the patient and provider regarding the risks of addiction with the use of opioids even short term should be discussed as part of every preoperative consultation. Furthermore, the patient and the provider must discuss their expectations for postoperative pain interventions for adequate pain control.”

SOURCE: McLawhorn J et al. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019 Nov 12. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2019.09.080.

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