Frequency and Risk Factors for Prolonged Opioid Prescriptions After Surgery for Brachial Plexus Injury

J Hand Surg Am. 2019 Aug;44(8):662-668.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jhsa.2019.04.001. Epub 2019 May 8.


Purpose: We hypothesized that patients with preoperative opioid prescriptions and diagnoses of depression and anxiety would be at increased risk for prolonged opioid prescriptions after surgery for brachial plexus injury (BPI).

Methods: Using an administrative database of privately insured patients, we assembled a cohort of BPI surgery patients and a control group of non-BPI patients, matching for age, sex, and year. Pharmacy claims for prescriptions filled for opioids and neuropathic pain medications were examined 12 months before surgery to 180 days after surgery. The primary outcome was prolonged opioid prescription, defined as receiving a prescription 90 to 180 days after the index (BPI surgery or randomly selected date of service for controls). Multivariable regression was used to examine risk factors for postoperative opioid use, including diagnoses of depression, anxiety, drug abuse, tobacco use, and preoperative use of opioids and neuropathic pain medications. A subgroup analysis was performed for opioid-naive BPI patients between 30 days to 1 year before surgery.

Results: Among BPI surgery patients (n = 1,936), 27.7% had prolonged opioid prescriptions. Among opioid-naive BPI patients (n = 911), 10.8% had prolonged opioid prescriptions. In controls (n = 19,360), frequency of prolonged opioid prescriptions was 0.11%. Among all BPI patients, after adjustment for age and sex, predictors of prolonged postoperative opioid prescriptions in BPI patients were preoperative opioids, preoperative neuropathic pain medication use, histories of drug abuse, tobacco use, and anxiety.

Conclusions: Prolonged postoperative opioids prescriptions after BPI reconstruction are higher than previous estimates among other surgical patients. In addition to establishing normative data among this population, our findings serve to increase awareness of risk factors for prolonged opioids after BPI reconstruction and encourage coordinated multidisciplinary care.

Type of study/level of evidence: Prognostic II.

Keywords: Brachial plexus; chronic pain; nerve injury; neuropathic pain; opioids.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Brachial Plexus / injuries*
  • Brachial Plexus / surgery*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors


  • Analgesics, Opioid