Preventing Postoperative Opioid-Induced Respiratory Depression Through Implementation of an Enhanced Monitoring Program

J Healthc Qual. 2022 Jan-Feb;44(1):e7-e14. doi: 10.1097/JHQ.0000000000000322.


Background: Opioid-induced respiratory depression (OIRD) is a serious complication that can lead to negative outcomes. There are known risk factors for OIRD; however, a lack of national guidelines for the prevention and early detection of OIRD exists.

Methods: An evidence-based practice study was conducted to create an enhanced monitoring (EM) program. The EM program consisted of risk stratification of surgical spine patients, including the use of STOP-BANG screening for obstructive sleep apnea, capnography monitoring, use of home positive airway pressure therapy, capnography alarm optimization, hospitalist consultation, nursing education, and patient education.

Results: Approximately 17% (N = 937/5,462) of surgical spine patients were enrolled in the EM program. Fifty-six percent of EM patients were monitored with capnography and had out of range end-tidal carbon dioxide levels 17% of the time. The rate of transfers to the intensive care unit (ICU) for OIRD decreased, though not statistically significant (p = .151).

Conclusions: The EM program with risk stratification was found to reduce transfers to the ICU for OIRD. Although not statistically significant, the decreased number of transfers was clinically significant. Engagement of the interprofessional team and capnography alarm parameter optimization helped to reduce nonactionable alarms.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Capnography
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Respiratory Insufficiency* / chemically induced
  • Respiratory Insufficiency* / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Insufficiency* / prevention & control
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive* / chemically induced


  • Analgesics, Opioid