Conference Coverage

Acute care prescriptions can be cut to minimize opioid exposure



– By cutting the number of pills prescribed after a surgical procedure, exposure to opioids can be minimized in a largely opioid-naive patient population at risk of new, persistent use, according to Michael J. Englesbe, MD, FACS, professor of surgery at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who is leading a Michigan initiative to tailor acute care prescribing.

Dr. Michael J. Englesbe

Dr. Michael J. Englesbe

About 90% of surgically patients are opioid-naive, and of those, studies suggest about 6% may become new, persistent opioid users, according to Dr. Englesbe, codirector of the Michigan Opioid Prescribing and Engagement Network (Michigan-OPEN), a state-wide effort to transform acute pain prescribing across all surgical specialties.

“This is a very vulnerable population where their operation can lead to life-changing events way beyond their surgical outcomes,” Dr. Englesbe said in a presentation at the American College of Surgeons Quality and Safety Conference.

“We have to really worry about them,” he added. “It’s hard to identify who they are, and I think minimizing exposure to opioids is the best we have at this point.”

By following evidence-based prescribing guidelines after laparoscopic cholecystectomy, Dr. Englesbe and his colleagues were able to reduce prescription size by 63% with no increase in refills and no change in pain score, according to a research letter recently published in JAMA Surgery.

After adopting the guidelines, median postoperative opioid use dropped from 30 mg to 20 mg (P = .04), they reported.

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy patients could be prescribed as few as 10 5-mg tablets of oxycodone, according to recommendations developed by Michigan-OPEN that are published on Dr. Englesbe called the website figures “precise prescribing recommendations” that are still relatively generous, meeting or exceeding self-reported use for 75% of patients.

“I think this is an important template for change,” he said. “We’ve found the surgeons in the state very receptive, but more importantly, we’ve been able to partner with other really important stakeholders.” For example, one insurer in the state now aligns some hospital incentive reimbursement based on some of these prescribing methods, he added.

Dr. Englesbe reported no commercial disclosures related to his presentation.

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