Safety and Distribution of Opioid Prescribing by U.S. Surgeons

Ann Surg. 2023 Jan 19. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000005802. Online ahead of print.


Objective: To estimate high-risk prescribing patterns among opioid prescriptions from U.S. surgeons; to characterize the distribution of high-risk prescribing among surgeons.

Background: National data on the prevalence of opioid prescribing and high risk opioid prescribing by U.S. surgeons are lacking.

Methods: Using the IQVIA Prescription Database, which reports dispensing from 92% of U.S. pharmacies, we identified opioid prescriptions from surgeons dispensed in 2019 to patients ages≥12 years. "High-risk" prescriptions were characterized by: days supplied>7, daily dosage≥50 oral morphine equivalents (OMEs), opioid-benzodiazepine overlap, extended-release/long-acting opioid. We determined the proportion of opioid prescriptions, total OMEs, and high-risk prescriptions accounted for by "high-volume surgeons" (those in the≥95th percentile for prescription counts). We used linear regression to identify characteristics associated with being a high-volume surgeon.

Results: Among 15,493,018 opioid prescriptions included, 7,036,481 (45.4%) were high-risk. Among 114,610 surgeons, 5,753 were in the 95th percentile or above for prescription count, with≥520 prescriptions dispensed in 2019. High-volume surgeons accounted for 33.5% of opioid prescriptions, 52.8% of total OMEs, and 44.2% of high-risk prescriptions. Among high-volume surgeons, 73.9% were orthopedic surgeons and 60.6% practiced in the South. Older age, male sex, specialty, region, and lack of affiliation with academic institutions or health systems were correlated with high risk prescribing.

Conclusions: The top 5% of surgeons account for 33.5% of opioid prescriptions and 45.4% of high-risk prescriptions. Quality improvement initiatives targeting these surgeons may have the greatest yield given their outsized role in high-risk prescribing.