Opioid prescribing practices at hospital discharge for surgical patients before and after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2016 opioid prescribing guideline

BMC Anesthesiol. 2022 May 11;22(1):141. doi: 10.1186/s12871-022-01678-6.


Background: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) March 2016 opioid prescribing guideline did not include prescribing recommendations for surgical pain. Although opioid over-prescription for surgical patients has been well-documented, the potential effects of the CDC guideline on providers' opioid prescribing practices for surgical patients in the United States remains unclear.

Methods: We conducted an interrupted time series analysis (ITSA) of 37,009 opioid-naïve adult patients undergoing inpatient surgery from 2013-2019 at an academic medical center. We assessed quarterly changes in the discharge opioid prescription days' supply, daily and total doses in oral morphine milligram equivalents (OME), and the proportion of patients requiring opioid refills within 30 days of discharge.

Results: The discharge opioid prescription declined by -0.021 (95% CI, -0.045 to 0.003) days per quarter pre-guideline versus -0.201 (95% CI, -0.223 to -0.179) days per quarter post-guideline (p < 0.0001). Likewise, the mean daily and total doses of the discharge opioid prescription declined by -0.387 (95% CI, -0.661 to -0.112) and -7.124 (95% CI, -9.287 to -4.962) OME per quarter pre-guideline versus -2.307 (95% CI, -2.560 to -2.055) and -20.68 (95% CI, -22.66 to -18.69) OME per quarter post-guideline, respectively (p < 0.0001). Opioid refill prescription rates remained unchanged from baseline.

Conclusions: The release of the CDC opioid guideline was associated with a significant reduction in discharge opioid prescriptions without a concomitant increase in the proportion of surgical patients requiring refills within 30 days. The mean prescription for opioid-naïve surgical patients decreased to less than 3 days' supply and less than 50 OME per day by 2019.

Keywords: Health policy; Opioids; Oral morphine equivalents; Post-operative pain.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid* / therapeutic use
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy
  • Pain, Postoperative / prevention & control
  • Patient Discharge*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid