Background: The extent of variation in analgesic prescribing following musculoskeletal injury among countries and cultural contexts is poorly understood. Such an understanding can inform both domestic prescribing and future policy. The aim of our survey study was to evaluate how opioid prescribing by orthopaedic residents varies by geographic context.
Methods: Orthopaedic residents in 3 countries in which residents are the primary prescribers of postoperative analgesia in academic medical centers (Haiti, the Netherlands, and the U.S.) responded to surveys utilizing vignette-based musculoskeletal trauma case scenarios. The residents chose which medications they would prescribe for post-discharge analgesia. We standardized opioid prescriptions in the surveys by conversion to morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs). We then constructed multivariable regressions with generalized estimating equations to describe differences in opiate prescription according to country, the resident's sex and training year, and the injury site and age in the test cases.
Results: U.S. residents prescribed significantly more total MMEs per case (mean [95% confidence interval] = 383 [331 to 435]) compared with residents from the Netherlands (229 [160 to 297]) and from Haiti (101 [52 to 150]) both overall (p < 0.0001) and for patients treated for injuries of the femur (452 [385 to 520], 315 [216 to 414], and 103 [37 to 169] in the U.S., the Netherlands, and Haiti, respectively), tibial plateau (459 [388 to 531], 280 [196 to 365], and 114 [46 to 183]), tibial shaft (440 [380 to 500], 294 [205 to 383], and 141 [44 to 239]), wrist (239 [194 to 284], 78 [36 to 119], and 63 [30 to 95]), and ankle (331 [270 to 393], 190 [100 to 280], and 85 [42 to 128]) (p = 0.0272). U.S. residents prescribed significantly more MMEs for patients <40 years old (432 [374 to 490]) than for those >70 years old (327 [270 to 384]) (p = 0.0019).
Conclusions: Our results demonstrate greater prescribing of postoperative opioids at discharge in the U.S. compared with 2 other countries, 1 low-income and 1 high-income. Our findings highlight the high U.S. reliance on opioid prescribing for postoperative pain control after orthopaedic trauma.
Clinical relevance: Our findings point toward a need for careful reassessment of current opioid prescribing habits in the U.S. and demand reflection on how we can maximize effectiveness in pain management protocols and reduce provider contributions to the ongoing opioid crisis.