Patients with lumbar spine pathology are at high risk for opioid misuse. Standardizing prescribing practices through an institutional intervention may reduce the overprescribing of opiates, leading to a decrease in the risk for opioid misuse and the number of pills available for diversion. Without quantitative data on the “minimum necessary quantity” of opioids appropriate for postdischarge prescriptions, the optimal method for changing existing prescribing practices is unknown. The purpose of this study was to determine whether mandatory provider education and prescribing guidelines could modify prescriber behavior and lead to a decreased amount of opioids prescribed at hospital discharge following lumbar spine surgery.
Qualified staff were required to attend a mandatory educational conference, and a consensus method among the spine service was used to publish qualitative prescribing guidelines. Prescription data for 2479 patients who had undergone lumbar spine surgery were captured and compared based on the timing of surgery. The preintervention group consisted of 1177 patients who had undergone spine surgery in the period before prescriber education and guidelines (March 1, 2016–November 1, 2016). The postintervention group consisted of 1302 patients who had undergone spine surgery after the dissemination of the guidelines (February 1, 2017–October 1, 2017). Surgeries were classified as decompression or fusion procedures. Patients who had undergone surgeries for infection and patients on long-acting opioids were excluded.
For all lumbar spine surgeries (decompression and fusion), the mean amount of opioids prescribed at discharge was lower after the educational program and distribution of prescribing guidelines (629 ± 294 oral morphine equivalent [OME] preintervention vs 490 ± 245 OME postintervention, p < 0.001). The mean number of prescribed pills also decreased (81 ± 26 vs 66 ± 22, p < 0.001). Prescriptions for 81 or more tablets dropped from 65.5% to 25.5%. Tramadol was prescribed more frequently after prescriber education (9.9% vs 18.6%, p < 0.001). Refill rates within 6 weeks were higher after the institutional intervention (7.6% vs 12.4%, p < 0.07).
Qualitative guidelines and prescriber education are effective in reducing the amount of opioids prescribed at discharge and encouraging the use of weaker opioids. Coupling provider education with prescribing guidelines is likely synergistic in achieving larger reductions. The sustainability of these changes is yet to be determined.