From the Journals

Split-dose oxycodone protocol reduces opioid use after cesarean



Using a split dose of oral oxycodone after cesarean delivery could more than halve opioid use, according to a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

A mother holds her newborn baby. ©joruba/Thinkstock

A retrospective study reviewed medical records of 1,050 women undergoing cesarean delivery, 508 of whom were treated after a change in protocol for postdelivery oxycodone orders. Instead of a 5-mg oral dose given for a verbal pain score of 4/10 or below and 10 mg for a pain score of 5-10/10, patients were given 2.5-mg or 5-mg dose respectively, with a nurse check after 1 hour to see if more of the same dosage was needed.

The split-dose approach was associated with a 56% reduction in median opioid consumption in the first 48 hours after cesarean delivery; 10 mg before the change in practice to 4.4 mg after it. There was also a 6.9-percentage-point decrease in the number of patients needing any postoperative opioids.

While the study did show a slight increase in average verbal pain scores in the first 58 hours after surgery – from a mean of 1.8 before the split-dose protocol was introduced to 2 after it was introduced – there was no increase in the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen, or gabapentin, and no difference in peak verbal pain scores.

“Our goal with the introduction of this new order set was to use a patient-centered, response-feedback approach to postcesarean delivery analgesia in the form of split doses of oxycodone rather than the traditional standard dose model,” wrote Jalal A. Nanji, MD, of the department of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and coauthors. “Involving patients in the decision for how much postcesarean delivery analgesia they will receive has been found to reduce opioid use and improve maternal satisfaction.”

The number of patients reporting postoperative nausea or vomiting was halved in those treated with the split-dose regimen, with no difference in mean overall patient satisfaction score.

Dr. Nanji and associates wrote that women viewed avoiding nausea or vomiting after a cesarean as a high priority, and targeting the root cause – excessive opioid use – was preferable to treating nausea and vomiting with antiemetics.

They also noted that input from nursing staff was vital in developing the new split-order set, not only because it directly affected nursing work flow but also to optimize the process.

“With the opioid epidemic on the rise and the increase in efforts by physicians to decrease outpatient opioid prescriptions, this study is extremely relevant and timely,” commented Marissa Platner, MD, an assistant professor in maternal-fetal medicine at Emory University, Atlanta.

“Although this study is retrospective and, therefore, there are inherent biases and an inability to control all contributing factors, it clearly demonstrates that, overall, there seem to be improved outcomes with split-dose protocol of opioid administration during the postoperative period in terms of overall patient satisfaction, opioid consumption, and postoperative nausea and vomiting. The patient-centered nature and response-feedback design of this study also contributes to its strength and improves its generalizability. In order to encourage others to considering adapting protocol in other institutions, it should be evaluated via a randomized controlled trial," Dr. Platner said in an interview.*

"The premise and execution of this study were novel and interesting," commented Katrina Mark, MD, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology & reproductive sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "The authors found that by decreasing the standard doses of oxycodone ordered after a cesarean section and asking women if they desired better pain control, rather than reacting only to a pain score, patients’ overall postoperative usage of opiates also decreased. In decreasing the amount of opiates used, the authors also observed a decrease some of the side effects associated with opiate use, which is promising.

"This study, among other recent studies, highlights the fact that postoperative prescribing standards are not evidence-based and may lead to overprescribing of opiates. Improving prescribing practices is a noble and important goal. In this study, a change in clinical practice among both nurses and prescribers is likely what caused the greatest change. The use of a protocol which prescribed oxycodone based on asking if a woman desired improved pain control, rather than prescribing only based on her pain score response, makes a lot of intuitive sense. Decreasing opioid consumption requires education of healthcare providers and patients, and protocols like this one will help to encourage that conversation," she noted in an interview.

"Before the findings of this study can be widely adopted, however, there are two major points that will need to be addressed," Dr. Mark emphasized. "The first is patient satisfaction. The peak pain scores were not different between the groups, but the mean pain scores were. The authors deemed this clinically insignificant, which it may be. However, without the patients’ perspective on this new protocol, it is difficult to tell if the opioid usage decreased because women actually needed less opiates or if it decreased because the system discouraged opioid use and made it more challenging for them to obtain the medicine they needed to achieve adequate pain control. The desire to decrease opioid prescribing is warranted, and likely completely appropriate, but there is certainly a role for opioids in pain management. We should not be so motivated to decrease use that we cause unnecessary suffering. The second point that will need to be addressed is the effect on nursing practice. There was no standardized evaluation of the impact that this protocol had on the nursing staff, and it is unclear if this protocol would require greater resources than may be readily available at all hospitals."**

The study was supported by the department of anesthesiology, perioperative, and pain medicine at Stanford (Calif.) University. One author declared travel funding from a university. No other conflicts of interest were declared. Dr. Platner and Dr. Mark also had no relevant financial disclosures.*

SOURCE: Nanji J et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2019. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000003305.

*This article was updated on 7/15/2019.

**It was updated again on 7/17/2019.

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