Is Opioid-Limiting Legislation Effective for Hand Surgery Patients?

Hand (N Y). 2022 Nov;17(6):1139-1146. doi: 10.1177/1558944720988132. Epub 2021 Feb 3.


Background: The Rhode Island State Legislature passed the Uniform Controlled Substances Act in 2016 to limit opioid prescriptions. We aimed to objectively evaluate its effect on opioid prescribing for hand surgery patients and also identify risk factors for prolonged opioid use.

Methods: A 6-month period (January-June 2016) prior to passage of the law was compared with a period following its implementation (July-December 2017). Thumb carpometacarpal arthroplasty and distal radius fracture fixation were classified as "major surgery" and carpal tunnel and trigger finger release as "minor surgery." Prescription Drug Monitoring Database was used to review controlled substances filled during the study periods.

Results: A total of 1380 patients met our inclusion criteria, with 644 prelaw and 736 postlaw patients. Patients undergoing "major surgery" saw a significant decrease in the number of pills issued in the first postoperative prescription (41.1 vs 21.0) and a corresponding decrease in morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) (318.6 vs 159.2 MMEs) after implementation. A 30% decrease in MMEs was also seen in those undergoing "major surgery" in the first 30 days postoperatively (544.7 vs 381.7 MMEs). Risk factors for prolonged opioid use included male sex and preoperative opioid use.

Conclusions: In Rhode Island, opioid-limiting legislation resulted in a significant decrease in the number of pills and MMEs of the initial prescription and a 30% decrease in total MMEs in the 30-day postoperative period after "major hand surgery." Additional research is needed to explore the association between legislation and clinical outcomes.

Keywords: hand surgery; legislation; opioid epidemic; opioid use; opioid-limiting legislation.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Controlled Substances
  • Hand / surgery
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morphine Derivatives
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Prescription Drugs*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Controlled Substances
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Morphine Derivatives