The Association of Postoperative Opioid Prescriptions with Patient Outcomes

Ann Surg. 2022 Dec 1;276(6):e1076-e1082. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000004965. Epub 2021 Jun 4.


Objective: To compare outcomes after surgery between patients who were not prescribed opioids and patients who were prescribed opioids.

Summary of background data: Postoperative opioid prescriptions carry significant risks. Understanding outcomes among patients who receive no opioids after surgery may inform efforts to reduce these risks.

Methods: We performed a retrospective study of adult patients who underwent surgery between January 1, 2019 and October 31, 2019. The primary outcome was the composite incidence of an emergency department visit, readmission, or reoperation within 30 days of surgery. Secondary outcomes were postoperative pain, satisfaction, quality of life, and regret collected via postoperative survey. A multilevel, mixed-effects logistic regression was performed to evaluate differences between groups.

Results: In a cohort of 22,345 patients, mean age (standard deviation) was 52.1 (16.5) years and 13,269 (59.4%) patients were female. About 3175 (14.2%) patients were not prescribed opioids, of whom 422 (13.3%) met the composite adverse event endpoint compared to 2255 (11.8%) of patients not prescribed opioids ( P = 0.015). Patients not prescribed opioids had a similar probability of adverse events {11.7% [95% confidence interval (CI) 10.2%-13.2%] vs 11.9% (95% CI 10.6%-13.3%]}. Among 12,872 survey respondents, patients who were not prescribed an opioid had a similar rate of high satisfaction [81.7% (95% CI 77.3%-86.1%) vs 81.7% (95% CI 77.7%- 85.7%)] and no regret [(93.0% (95% CI 90.8%-95.2%) vs 92.6% (95% CI 90.4%-94.7%)].

Conclusions: Patients who were not prescribed opioids after surgery had similar clinical and patient-reported outcomes as patients who were prescribed opioids. This suggests that minimizing opioids as part of routine postoperative care is unlikely to adversely affect patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid* / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Prescriptions
  • Quality of Life*
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Analgesics, Opioid