The impact of standard postoperative opioid prescribing guidelines on racial differences in opioid prescribing: A retrospective review

Surgery. 2021 Jul;170(1):180-185. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2020.12.034. Epub 2021 Jan 31.


Background: Racial disparities in opioid prescribing are widely documented, though few studies assess racial differences in the postoperative setting specifically. We hypothesized standard opioid prescribing schedules reduce total opioids prescribed postoperatively and mitigate racial variation in postoperative opioid prescribing.

Methods: This is a retrospective review of adult general surgery cases at a large, public academic institution. Standard opioid prescribing schedules were implemented across general surgery services for common procedures in late 2018 at various timepoints. Interrupted time series analysis was used to compare mean biweekly discharge morphine milligram equivalents prescribed in the preintervention (Jan-Jun 2018) versus postintervention (Jan-Jun 2019) periods for Black and White patients. Linear regression was used to compare mean difference in discharge morphine milligram equivalents among White and Black patients in each study period, while controlling for demographics, chronic opioid use, and procedure/service.

Results: A total of 2,961 cases were analyzed: 1,441 preintervention and 1,520 postintervention. Procedural frequencies, proportion of Black patients (17% Black), and chronic opioid exposure (7% chronic users) were similar across time periods. Interrupted time series analysis showed significantly lower mean level of morphine milligram equivalents prescribed postintervention compared with the predicted nonintervention trend for both Black and White patients. Adjusted analysis showed on average in 2018 Black patients received significantly higher morphine milligram equivalents than White patients (+19 morphine milligram equivalents, 95% confidence interval 0.5-36.5). There was no significant difference in 2019 (-8 morphine milligram equivalents, 95% confidence interval -20.5 to 4.6).

Conclusion: Standard opioid prescribing schedules were associated with the elimination of racial differences in postoperative opioid prescribing after common general surgery procedures, while also reducing total opioids prescribed. We hypothesize standard opioid prescribing schedules may mitigate the effect of implicit bias in prescribing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Black or African American
  • Drug Prescriptions / standards*
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Interrupted Time Series Analysis
  • Linear Models
  • Morphine / therapeutic use*
  • North Carolina
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Pain, Postoperative / ethnology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Race Factors*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • White People


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Morphine