Sixty percent of opioids unused after common procedures

A new Penn Medicine study of how text messaging could inform opioid prescribing practices shows that 60% of opioids are left over after orthopaedic and urologic procedures.

More than half of the opioid tablets prescribed for patients who underwent orthopaedic or urologic procedures went unused in a new study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine. Using an automated text messaging system that regularly checked in with patients on their pain and opioid use, the study also showed that most opioids are taken within the first few days following a procedure and may not be necessary to manage pain even just a week following a procedure. The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

White pills in a pile.

“Through simple text messaging we highlight a method which gives clinicians the information they need to reduce prescribing and manage pain,” says co-lead author Anish Agarwal, a clinical innovation manager in the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health and an assistant professor of emergency medicine. “We found that more than 60% of the opioid tablets prescribed went unused, which tracks with the team’s preliminary studies. We can begin to use these data in multiple ways: One approach would be to look at trends in patient-reported use and tailor future prescribing to meet the anticipated pain for the majority of patients undergoing a specific procedure.”

In response to the opioid crisis, using text messaging to keep track of how many prescriptions patients actually take after a procedure—and to potentially right-size the amount prescribed—is relatively new but growing in popularity. The traditional ways that clinicians track their patients’ opioid use could use a boost.

This story is by Frank Otto. Read more at Penn Medicine News.