Opioid Utilization Following Lumbar Arthrodesis: Trends and Factors Associated With Long-term Use

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2018 Sep 1;43(17):1208-1216. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000002734.


Study design: A retrospective, observational cohort study.

Objective: In patients undergoing lumbar spine arthrodesis, we sought to establish perioperative trends in chronic versus naive opioid users (OUs) and identify modifiable risk factors associated with prolonged consumption.

Summary of background data: The morbidity associated with excessive opioid use for chronic conditions continues to climb and has been identified as a national epidemic. Limiting excessive perioperative opioid use after procedures such as lumbar fusion remains a national health strategy.

Methods: A national commercial claims dataset (2007-2015) was queried for all patients undergoing anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) and/or lumbar [posterior/transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (P/TLIF) or posterolateral fusion (PLF)] spinal fusion procedures. Patients were labeled as either an OU (prescription within 3 months pre-surgery) or opioid naive (ON, no prescription). Rates of opioid use were evaluated preoperatively for OU, and longitudinally tracked up to 1-year postoperatively for both OU and ON. Multivariable regression techniques investigated factors associated with opioid use at 1-year following surgery. In addition, a clinical calculator (app) was created to predict 1-year narcotic use.

Results: Overall, 26,553 patients (OU: 58.3%) underwent lumbar surgery (ALIF: 8.5%; P/TLIF: 43.8%; PLF: 41.5%; ALIF+PLF: 6.2%). At 1-month postop, 60.2% ON and 82.9% OUs had a filled opioid prescription. At 3 months, prescription rates declined significantly to 13.9% in ON versus 53.8% in OUs, while plateauing at 6 to 12-month postoperative period (ON: 8.4-9.6%; OU: 42.1-45.3%). At 1 year, significantly higher narcotic prescription filling rates were observed in OUs than in ON (42.4% vs. 8.6%; P < 0.001). Preoperative opioid use was the strongest driver of 1-year narcotic use following ALIF [odds ratio (OR): 7.86; P < 0.001], P/TLIFs (OR: 4.62; P < 0.001), or PLF (OR: 7.18; P < 0.001).

Conclusion: Approximately one-third patients chronically use opioids before lumbar arthrodesis and nearly half of the pre-op OUs will continue to use at 1 year. Our findings serve as a baseline in identifying patients at risk for chronic use and alter surgeons to work toward discontinuation of opioids before lumbar spinal surgery.

Level of evidence: 3.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Drug Utilization / trends*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain, Postoperative / epidemiology
  • Pain, Postoperative / prevention & control*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Fusion / adverse effects*
  • Spinal Fusion / trends*


  • Analgesics, Opioid