Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery

Opioid-prescribing patterns among shoulder and elbow surgeons: considerations for future prescription guidelines

Published:January 06, 2021DOI:


      Although the achievement of adequate analgesia is critical to patient comfort and recovery following orthopedic procedures, no standard protocol exists to dictate the appropriate duration and quantity of narcotic prescription in the postoperative period. Therefore, the purpose of this survey was to determine patterns of opioid prescribing among orthopedic shoulder and elbow providers.


      In March 2020, a survey was distributed through a LISTSERV to 989 members of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons orthopedic society. Survey recipients were asked to describe their personal and practice characteristics. Additionally, they were asked to list their 3 most commonly performed procedures and, for each operation, to list which narcotic pain medication they most commonly prescribe postoperatively, along with the corresponding number of tablets typically given. Similarly, respondents were asked to record frequently recommended alternative strategies for postoperative pain control, factors influencing the respondents’ prescribing practices, and methods of patient counseling regarding opioid use and disposal.


      A total of 177 providers responded to the survey. Across all selected procedures, Percocet (5 mg of oxycodone hydrochloride and 325 mg of acetaminophen) was the most commonly prescribed drug, with 21-30 tablets being the most commonly prescribed amount. The majority of surgeons (82%) indicated that previous opioid prescriptions influence their decision to prescribe opioids. Respondents most frequently reported patient age (48%) and duration of the patient’s symptoms (32%) as additional influential factors. Most surgeons (93%) reported counseling their patients regarding the use of opioid medications. However, only 30% of surgeons reported providing information regarding how to dispose of unused opioids. In lieu of opioids, nearly all investigators reported the use of ice as a pain-relief strategy, with rest and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reported as other commonly recommended alternatives. Of 137 respondents who were aware of prescription guidelines, 21% reported using recommendations from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 21% used institutional policies, and 20% used personal guidelines, whereas the remaining respondents used other literature findings in their prescription decisions. Of particular concern, 21% of overall respondents were unaware of any type of guidelines.


      To prevent both misuse and abuse of opioid prescribing, this analysis serves as a starting point for the establishment of more consistent, evidence-based opioid prescription guidelines for surgical procedures on the shoulder and elbow. In addition to recommending safe, procedure-specific opioid dosages and standardizing pain management strategies, these guidelines should include effective methods of educating both providers and patients regarding the use of opioid medication.

      Level of evidence


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