From the Journals

Gynecologic surgeries linked with persistent opioid use



About 7% of women who receive opioid painkillers after even minor gynecological surgeries are getting fresh opioid prescriptions months later – showing that persistent opioid use can follow such surgeries.

A woman takes pills. ©BananaStock/

For a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Jason D. Wright, MD, of Columbia University, New York, and colleagues looked at insurance claims data from 729,625 opioid-naive women, median age 44 years, who had undergone a myomectomy; a minimally invasive, vaginal, or abdominal hysterectomy; an open or laparoscopic oophorectomy; endometrial ablation; tubal ligation; or dilation and curettage. The vast majority of subjects, 93%, had commercial health insurance, with the rest enrolled in Medicaid. Women undergoing multiple surgical procedures, with serious comorbidities, or who underwent another surgery within 6 months of the initial one, were excluded from the analysis.

Dr. Wright and colleagues found that 60% of patients in the cohort received an initial opioid prescription in the perioperative period. Additional opioids were then prescribed to 6.8% (P less than .001) of those women between 90 and 180 days after surgery. The rate of additional prescriptions varied by year across the study period, from 2009 to 2016, and declined to 6% by the final year of the study. The rate of further opioid prescriptions varied according to procedure: 4.8% for myomectomy, 6.6% for minimally invasive hysterectomy, 6.7% for abdominal hysterectomy, 6.3% for endometrial ablation, 7% for tubal ligation, and 7.2% for dilation and curettage (P less than .001).

Factors significantly increasing likelihood of a new prescription included younger age and a history of depression, anxiety, or a substance abuse disorder. Also, a higher total dose of opioids initially prescribed, and a greater number of days supplied, were associated with increased risk for an additional prescription.

“These data demonstrate that the rate of new persistent opioid use after common gynecologic procedures is substantial,” Dr. Wright and colleagues wrote in their analysis, noting that prior studies across a wide range of surgeries have shown rates of new persistent opioid use to be between 3% and 8%. “Careful risk assessment of patients preoperatively may be useful to mitigate opioid misuse in high risk populations,” the investigators wrote. “Women with underlying psychosocial disorders, medical comorbidities, or a history of substance use disorder are at particular risk for persistent opioid use and should be prescribed opioids with extra caution.”

Dr. Wright and colleagues’ study “provides powerful data that should cause gynecological surgeons to pause when writing an opioid prescription,” David M. Jaspan, DO, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia, said in an interview. “Is an opioid the best first line medication for this patient? Would an NSAID work better? Is multimodal medication an option? What are the patient characteristics that may be associated with persistent use?”

Dr. Wright and colleagues noted among the study’s limitations the fact that actual opioid use could not be measured, nor could use of nonopioid painkillers.

Dr. Wright has served as a consultant for Tesaro and Clovis Oncology. Dr. Alfred I. Neugut disclosed relationships with various pharmaceutical firms. Dr. Dawn L. Hershman received a grant from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation/Conquer Cancer Foundation. The remaining coauthors had no relevant financial disclosures.

SOURCE: Wright JD et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2019. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000003358.

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