The United States opioid epidemic: a review of the surgeon's contribution to it and health policy initiatives

BJU Int. 2018 Nov;122(5):754-759. doi: 10.1111/bju.14446. Epub 2018 Jul 26.


Opioid abuse and addiction is causing widespread devastation in communities across the USA and resulting in significant strain on our healthcare system. There is increasing evidence that prescribers are at least partly responsible for the opioid crisis because of overprescribing, a practice that developed from changes in policy and reimbursement structures. Surgeons, specifically, have been subject to scrutiny as 'adequate treatment' of post-surgical pain is poorly defined and data suggest that many patients receive much larger opioid prescriptions than needed. The consequences of overprescribing include addiction and misuse, dispersion of opioids into the community, and possible potentiation of illicit drug/heroin use. Several solutions to this crisis are currently being enacted with variable success, including Prescription Drug Monitoring Programmes, policy-level interventions aimed to de-incentivize overprescribing, limiting opioid exposures through Enhanced Recovery After Surgery protocols, and the novel idea of creating surgery- and/or procedure-specific prescribing guidelines. This problem is likely to require not one, but several potential solutions to reverse its trajectory. It is critical, however, that we as physicians and prescribers find a way to stop the needless overprescribing while still treating postoperative pain appropriately.

Keywords: #UroBPH; analgesics; opioid; overprescribing; pain; postoperative; surgeons.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid* / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid* / therapeutic use
  • Epidemics
  • Health Policy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Inappropriate Prescribing* / prevention & control
  • Opioid-Related Disorders*
  • Organizational Culture
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Surgeons
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid