Opioid-Prescribing Guidelines for Common Surgical Procedures: An Expert Panel Consensus

J Am Coll Surg. 2018 Oct;227(4):411-418. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2018.07.659. Epub 2018 Aug 14.


Background: One in 16 surgical patients prescribed opioids becomes a long-term user. Overprescribing opioids after surgery is common, and the lack of multidisciplinary procedure-specific guidelines contributes to the wide variation in opioid prescribing practices. We hypothesized that a single-institution, multidisciplinary expert panel can establish consensus on ideal opioid prescribing for select common surgical procedures.

Study design: We used a 3-step modified Delphi method involving a multidisciplinary expert panel of 6 relevant stakeholder groups (surgeons, pain specialists, outpatient surgical nurse practitioners, surgical residents, patients, and pharmacists) to develop consensus ranges for outpatient opioid prescribing at the time of discharge after 20 common procedures in 8 surgical specialties. Prescribing guidelines were developed for opioid-naïve adult patients without chronic pain undergoing uncomplicated procedures. The number of opioid tablets was defined using oxycodone 5 mg oral equivalents.

Results: For all 20 surgical procedures reviewed, the minimum number of opioid tablets recommended by the panel was 0. Ibuprofen was recommended for all patients unless medically contraindicated. The maximum number of opioid tablets varied by procedure (median 12.5 tablets), with panel recommendations of 0 opioid tablets for 3 of 20 (15%) procedures, 1 to 15 opioid tablets for 11 of 20 (55%) procedures, and 16 to 20 tablets for 6 of 20 (30%) procedures. Overall, patients who had the procedures voted for lower opioid amounts than surgeons who performed them.

Conclusions: Procedure-specific prescribing recommendations may help provide guidance to clinicians who are currently overprescribing opioids after surgery. Multidisciplinary, patient-centered consensus guidelines for more procedures are feasible and may serve as a tool in combating the opioid crisis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Consensus
  • Delphi Technique
  • Humans
  • Pain Management / standards*
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid