Larger Initial Opioid Prescriptions Following Total Joint Arthroplasty Are Associated with Greater Risk of Prolonged Use

J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2021 Jan 20;103(2):106-114. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.20.00732.


Background: The ongoing U.S. opioid epidemic threatens quality of life and poses substantial economic and safety burdens to opioid abusers and their communities, physicians, and health-care systems. Public health experts have argued that prescription opioids are implicated in this epidemic; however, opioid dosing following surgical procedures remains controversial. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship between initial opioid prescribing following total hip arthroplasty (THA) and total knee arthroplasty (TKA) and the risk and quantity of long-term opioid use.

Methods: Patients undergoing THA or TKA from January 1, 2016, to June 30, 2016, were identified. Preoperative 30-day opioid and benzodiazepine exposures were evaluated using the Rhode Island Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Cumulative morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) in the postoperative inpatient stay, initial outpatient opioid prescription, and prescriptions filled from 31 to 90 days (prolonged use) and 91 to 150 days (chronic use) following the surgical procedure were calculated. Regression analyses evaluated the association between the initial postoperative opioid dosing and prolonged or chronic use, controlling for demographic characteristics, procedure, preoperative opioid and benzodiazepine exposures, anesthesia type, and use of a peripheral nerve block.

Results: A total of 507 patients (198 who underwent a THA and 309 who underwent a TKA) were identified. Increased inpatient opioid dosing (odds ratio [OR], 1.49 per 1 standard deviation increase in inpatient opioid MMEs; p = 0.001) and increased dosing in the first outpatient prescription (OR, 1.26 per 1 standard deviation increase in initial outpatient prescription MMEs; p = 0.049) were each independently associated with an increased risk of prolonged opioid use. Additionally, increased inpatient dosing postoperatively was strongly associated with a greater risk of chronic use (OR, 1.77 per 1 standard deviation increase in inpatient MMEs; p < 0.001). Among the 30% (151 of 507) of patients requiring prolonged postoperative opioids, each 1-MME increase in the initial outpatient prescription dose was associated with a 0.997-MME increase in quantity filled during the prolonged period (p < 0.001). Among the 14% (73 of 507) of patients requiring chronic opioids, every 1-MME increase in the initial outpatient dose was associated with a 1.678-MME increase in chronic opioid dosing (p = 0.008).

Conclusions: Increased opioid dosing in the early postoperative period following total joint arthroplasty (TJA) is associated with an increased risk of extended opioid use. A dose-dependent relationship between initial outpatient dosing and greater future quantities consumed by those with prolonged usage and those with chronic usage was noted. This study suggests that providers should attempt to minimize inpatient and early outpatient opioid utilization following TJA. Multimodal pain management strategies may be employed to assist in achieving adequate pain control while minimizing opioid utilization.

Level of evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Hip* / statistics & numerical data
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee* / statistics & numerical data
  • Benzodiazepines / administration & dosage
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing* / adverse effects
  • Inappropriate Prescribing* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Pain, Postoperative / etiology
  • Postoperative Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Rhode Island / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Time Factors


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Benzodiazepines