Risk of Prolonged Opioid Use Among Opioid-Naïve Patients Following Common Hand Surgery Procedures

J Hand Surg Am. 2016 Oct;41(10):947-957.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.jhsa.2016.07.113. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


Purpose: To evaluate prolonged opioid use in opioid-naïve patients after common hand surgery procedures in the United States.

Methods: We studied insurance claims from the Truven MarketScan databases to identify opioid-naïve adult patients (no opioid exposure 11 months before the perioperative period) who underwent an elective (carpal tunnel release, carpometacarpal arthroplasty/arthrodesis, cubital tunnel release, or trigger finger release) or trauma-related (closed distal radius fracture fixation, flexor tendon repair, metacarpal fracture fixation, or phalangeal fracture fixation) hand surgery procedure between 2010 and 2012 (N = 77,573 patients). Patients were observed for 6 months to determine the number, timing, duration, and oral morphine equivalent dosage of postoperative opioid prescriptions. We assessed prolonged postoperative opioid use, defined as patients who filled a perioperative opioid prescription followed by a prescription between 90 and 180 days after surgery, and evaluated associated risk factors using multivariable logistic regression.

Results: In this cohort, 59,725 opioid-naïve patients (77%) filled a perioperative opioid prescription. Of these, 13% of patients continued to fill prescriptions between 90 and 180 days after surgery. Elective surgery patients were more likely to continue to fill opioid prescriptions after 90 days compared with trauma patients (13.5% vs 10.5%). Younger age, female gender, lower income, comprehensive insurance, higher Elixhauser comorbidity index, mental health disorders, and tobacco dependence or abuse were associated with prolonged opioid use.

Conclusions: Approximately 13% of opioid-naïve patients continue to fill opioid prescriptions after hand surgery procedures 90 days after surgery. Preoperative interventions centered on opioid alternatives and early cessation, particularly among patients at risk for long-term use, is critical to addressing the prescription opioid crisis in the United States.

Clinical relevance: The current national opioid use epidemic requires an assessment of the prevalence of hand surgery patients who receive and fill opioid prescriptions after common hand surgery procedures.

Keywords: Hand surgery; opioid-naïve patients; prescription opioids; prolonged opioid use.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Hand / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opioid-Related Disorders*
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid