Effects of an opioid stewardship program on opioid consumption and related outcomes after multilevel lumbar spine fusion: a pre- and postimplementation analysis of 268 patients

J Neurosurg Spine. 2021 Dec 3;1-9. doi: 10.3171/2021.8.SPINE21599. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Opioid stewardship programs combine clinical, regulatory, and educational interventions to minimize inappropriate opioid use and prescribing for orthopedic and spine surgery. Most evaluations of stewardship programs quantify effects on prescriber behavior, whereas patient-relevant outcomes have been relatively neglected. The authors evaluated the impact of an opioid stewardship program on perioperative opioid consumption, prescribing, and related clinical outcomes after multilevel lumbar fusion.

Methods: The study was based on a retrospective, quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design in 268 adult patients who underwent multilevel lumbar fusion in 2016 (preimplementation, n = 141) or 2019 (postimplementation, n = 127). The primary outcome was in-hospital opioid consumption (morphine equivalent dose [MED], mg). Secondary outcomes included numeric rating scale pain scores (0-10), length of stay (LOS), incidence of opioid-induced side effects (gastrointestinal, nausea/vomiting, respiratory, sedation, cognitive), and preoperative and discharge prescribing. Outcomes were measured continuously during the hospital admission. Differences in outcomes between the epochs were assessed in bivariable (Wilcoxon signed-rank or Fisher's exact tests) and multivariable (Wald's chi-square test) analyses.

Results: In bivariable analyses, there were significant decreases in preoperative opioid use (46% vs 28% of patients, p = 0.002), preoperative opioid prescribing (MED 30 mg [IQR 20-60 mg] vs 20 mg [IQR 11-39 mg], p = 0.003), in-hospital opioid consumption (MED 329 mg [IQR 188-575 mg] vs 199 mg [100-372 mg], p < 0.001), the incidence of any opioid-related side effect (62% vs 50%, p = 0.03), and discharge opioid prescribing (MED 90 mg [IQR 60-135 mg] vs 60 mg [IQR 45-80 mg], p < 0.0001) between 2016 and 2019. There were no significant differences in postanesthesia care unit pain scores (4 [IQR 3-6] vs 5 [IQR 3-6], p = 0.33), nursing floor pain scores (4 [IQR 3-5] vs 4 [IQR 3-5], p = 0.93), or total LOS (118 hours [IQR 81-173 hours] vs 103 hours [IQR 81-132 hours], p = 0.21). On multivariable analysis, the opioid stewardship program was significantly associated with decreased discharge prescribing (Wald's chi square = 9.45, effect size -52.4, 95% confidence interval [CI] -86 to -19.0, p = 0.002). The number of lumbar levels fused had the strongest effect on total opioid consumption during the hospital stay (Wald's chi square = 16.53, effect size = 539, 95% CI 279.1 to 799, p < 0.001), followed by preoperative opioid use (Wald's chi square = 44.04, effect size = 5, 95% CI 4 to 7, p < 0.001).

Conclusions: A significant decrease in perioperative opioid prescribing, consumption, and opioid-related side effects was found after implementation of an opioid stewardship program. These gains were achieved without adverse effects on pain scores or LOS. These results suggest the major impact of opioid stewardship programs for spine surgery may be on changing prescriber behavior.

Keywords: length of stay; lumbar spine surgery; opioid epidemic; opioid prescribing; opioid stewardship; orthopedic surgery.