Conference Coverage

Opioid reduction works after minimally invasive gynecologic surgery



– Two new randomized trials demonstrate that pain following minimally invasive gynecologic surgery can be successfully managed using reduced opioid prescriptions.

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In each case, patients were randomized to receive higher or lower numbers of oxycodone tablets. In both trials, the lower amount was five 5-mg oxycodone tablets. The work should reassure surgeons who wish to change their prescribing patterns, but may worry about patient dissatisfaction, at least in the context of prolapse repair and benign minor gynecologic laparoscopy, which were the focus of the two studies.

The ob.gyn. literature cites rates of 4%-6% of persistent opioid use after surgery on opioid-naive patients, and that’s a risk that needs to be addressed. “If we look at this as a risk factor of our surgical process, this is much higher than any other risk in patients undergoing surgery, and it’s not something we routinely talk to patients about,” Kari Plewniak, MD, an ob.gyn. at Montefiore Medical Center, New York, said during her presentation on pain control during benign gynecologic laparoscopy at the meeting sponsored by AAGL.

The trials provide some welcome guidance. “They provide pretty concrete guidelines with strong evidence of safety, so this is really helpful,” said Sean Dowdy, MD, chair of gynecologic oncology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., while speaking as a discussant for the presentations.

Emily Davidson, MD, and associates at the Cleveland Clinic conducted a single-institution, noninferiority trial of standard- versus reduced-prescription opioids in 116 women undergoing prolapse repair. Half were randomized to receive 28 tablets of 5 mg oxycodone (routine arm) and half were prescribed just 5 tablets (reduced arm). All patients also received multimodal pain therapy featuring acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The mean age of patients was 62 years, 91% were white, and 84% were post menopausal. The most common surgery was hysterectomy combined with native tissue repair (60.2%), followed by vaginal colpopexy (15.3%), hysteropexy (15.3%), and sacrocolpopexy (9.3%).

At their postsurgical visit, patients were asked about their satisfaction with their postoperative pain management; 93% in the reduced arm reported that they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied, as did 93% in the routine arm, which met the standard for noninferiority with a 15% margin. About 15% of patients in the reduced arm used more opioids than originally prescribed, compared with 2% of patients in the routine arm (P less than .01). The reduced arm had an average of 4 unused opioid tablets, compared with 26 in the routine arm. On average, the reduced arm used one tablet, compared with three in the routine arm (P = .03).

The researchers suggested that clinicians should consider prescribing 5-10 tablets for most patients, and all patients should receive multimodal pain management.

The noninferiority nature of the design was welcome, according to Dr. Dowdy. “I think we need to do more noninferiority trial designs because it allows us to make more observations about other parts of the value equation, so if we have two interventions that are equivalent, we can pick the one that has the best patient experience and the lowest cost, so it simplifies a lot of our management.”

The other study, conducted at Montefiore Medical Center, set out to see if a similar regimen of 5 5-mg oxycodone tablets, combined with acetaminophen and ibuprofen, could adequately manage postoperative pain after minor benign gynecologic laparoscopy (excluding hysterectomy), compared with a 10-tablet regimen. All patients received 25 tablets of 600 mg ibuprofen (1 tablet every 6 hours or as needed), plus 50 tablets of 250 mg acetaminophen (1-2 tablets every 6 hours or as needed).

The median number of opioid tablets taken was 2.0 in the 5-tablet group and 2.5 in the 10-tablet group; 32% and 28% took no tablets, and 68% and 65% took three or fewer tablets in the respective groups. The median number of leftover opioid tablets was 3 in the 5-tablet group and 8 in the 10-tablet group, reported Dr. Plewniak.

The studies are a good first step, but more is needed, according to Dr. Dowdy. It’s important to begin looking at more-challenging patient groups, such as those who are not opioid naive, as well as patients taking buprenorphine. “That creates some unique challenges with postoperative pain management,” he said.

Dr. Dowdy, Dr. Davidson, and Dr. Plewniak have no relevant financial disclosures.*

* This article was updated 11/27/2019.

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