Combating the Opioid Epidemic: Experience with a Single Prescription for Total Joint Arthroplasty

Background: Despite advances in perioperative total joint arthroplasty (TJA) pain protocols, opiates continue to play a major role in postoperative pain control. This brief communication reports our experience with a restrictive opioid protocol allowing patients only a single prescription of low-dose opioids.

Methods: One hundred consecutive elective, primary, and revision TJAs were analyzed. All patients received preoperative counseling and multimodal analgesia. Counseling involved discussion of patient expectations on postoperative pain management, weaning off opioids before surgery, and emphasis that opioid refills were not permitted. Ninety-day outcomes including pain-related phone calls, opioid refill requests, emergency room visits, complications, and readmissions were assessed. Opioid dispensing was tracked using our state prescription monitoring program.

Results: There was a high prevalence of preoperative opioid use, depression, and anxiety (25%, 34%, and 39%, respectively). Sixty-eight percent of chronic opioid users were able to wean off opioids before surgery. The average initial prescription of opioids was equivalent to 48 pills of 5 mg oxycodone. There were only 10 pain-related phone calls from 9 patients; all were using opioids preoperatively, with only one patient requesting a refill. All pain-related phone calls occurred in the first week after surgery. There were no emergency room visits, complications, or readmissions related to pain.

Conclusions: A single prescription of low-dose opioids was sufficient for patients undergoing TJA when using preoperative patient preparation and multimodal analgesia. Standardized guidelines are needed to guide best practices for patient education and pain management, especially in patients on chronic opioid therapy. This information will help implement evidence-based strategies to accelerate the decline of opioid use and hopefully pave the way for opioid-free TJA.

Keywords: Arthroplasty; Hip; Knee: primary; Opioids; Revision.