Persistent Opioid Use Among Pediatric Patients After Surgery

Pediatrics. 2018 Jan;141(1):e20172439. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-2439. Epub 2017 Dec 4.


Background: Despite efforts to reduce nonmedical opioid misuse, little is known about the development of persistent opioid use after surgery among adolescents and young adults. We hypothesized that there is an increased incidence of prolonged opioid refills among adolescents and young adults who received prescription opioids after surgery compared with nonsurgical patients.

Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study by using commercial claims from the Truven Health Marketscan research databases from January 1, 2010, to December 31, 2014. We included opioid-naïve patients ages 13 to 21 years who underwent 1 of 13 operations. A random sample of 3% of nonsurgical patients who matched eligibility criteria was included as a comparison. Our primary outcome was persistent opioid use, which was defined as ≥1 opioid prescription refill between 90 and 180 days after the surgical procedure.

Results: Among eligible patients, 60.5% filled a postoperative opioid prescription (88 637 patients). Persistent opioid use was found in 4.8% of patients (2.7%-15.2% across procedures) compared with 0.1% of those in the nonsurgical group. Cholecystectomy (adjusted odds ratio 1.13; 95% confidence interval, 1.00-1.26) and colectomy (adjusted odds ratio 2.33; 95% confidence interval, 1.01-5.34) were associated with the highest risk of persistent opioid use. Independent risk factors included older age, female sex, previous substance use disorder, chronic pain, and preoperative opioid fill.

Conclusions: Persistent opioid use after surgery is a concern among adolescents and young adults and may represent an important pathway to prescription opioid misuse. Identifying safe, evidence-based practices for pain management is a top priority, particularly among at-risk patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Distribution
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Pain, Postoperative / diagnosis
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Pediatrics
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sex Distribution
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid