Overprescription of postoperative narcotics: a look at postoperative pain medication delivery, consumption and disposal in urological practice

J Urol. 2011 Feb;185(2):551-5. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2010.09.088. Epub 2010 Dec 18.


Purpose: Prescription narcotic abuse is a significant social problem. Surplus medication following surgery is 1 source of prescription diversion. We assessed prescribing practices, consumption and disposal of prescribed narcotics after urological surgery.

Materials and methods: Surveys were administered to a 3-month consecutive sample of adult patients who underwent surgery performed by full and adjunct University of Utah Urology faculty. Surveys were performed 2 to 4 weeks postoperatively. With the exception of the investigators, prescribing physicians had no prior knowledge of the study. Data collected included perception of pain control, type and quantity of medication prescribed, quantity of leftover medication, refills needed, disposal instructions and surplus medication disposition.

Results: Overall 47% of 586 patients participated in the study. Hydrocodone was prescribed most commonly (63%), followed by oxycodone (35%), and 86% of the patients were satisfied with pain control. Of the dispensed narcotics 58% was consumed and 12% of patients requested refills. A total of 67% of patients had surplus medication from the initial prescription and 92% received no disposal instructions for surplus medication. Of those patients with leftover medication 91% kept the medication at home while 6% threw it in the trash, 2% flushed it down the toilet and less than 1% returned it to a pharmacy.

Conclusions: Overprescription of narcotics is common and retained surplus medication presents a readily available source of opioid diversion. It appears that no entity on the prescribing or dispensing ends of prescription opioid delivery is fulfilling the responsibility to accurately educate patients on proper surplus medication disposal. Surgeons should analyze prescribing practices and consider decreasing the quantity of postoperative narcotics prescribed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Utilization
  • Drug Utilization Review*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocodone / administration & dosage
  • Hydrocodone / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment
  • Opioid-Related Disorders
  • Oxycodone / administration & dosage
  • Oxycodone / adverse effects
  • Pain, Postoperative / diagnosis
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Postoperative Care / methods
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Urologic Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Urologic Surgical Procedures / methods
  • Urology / standards
  • Urology / trends
  • Utah


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone