Background: Orthopaedic surgeons are among the highest prescribing physicians of narcotics to opioidnaïve patients. Despite the current opioid epidemic, few studies have specifically quantified the appropriate amount of opioids necessary for postoperative pain control. We hypothesized a significant variability in the quantity of postoperative opioids prescribed among trainee (ie, residents and fellows) and attending surgeons at a single institution.

Methods: Postoperative narcotic prescribing habits were assessed using an anonymous survey. Ultimately, 28 trainee physicians and 17 attending physicians responded to the survey (86.5%). The survey recorded the amount of 5-mg oxycodone tablets that were commonly prescribed to manage pain after various typical orthopaedic procedures (eg, total knee arthroplasty). Non-narcotic analgesic use was also measured. Mean, standard deviation, and variance values were calculated, with significance set at α = 0.05.

Results: After the following procedures, the respondents reported prescribing the following quantities of 5-mg oxycodone tablets: total knee arthroplasty, 56 (SD, 16); total hip arthroplasty, 53 (SD, 13); anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction, 38 (SD, 16); partial meniscectomy, 23 (SD, 14); arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, 39 (SD, 16); carpal tunnel release, 10 (SD, 10); A1 pulley release for treating trigger finger, 9 (SD, 9); open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) for treating distal radius fractures, 32 (SD, 16); and ORIF for treating ankle fractures, 39 (SD, 15). Statistically significant variation existed between trainee and attending physicians for total hip arthroplasty and A1 pulley release. There was no difference for acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, with about 70% of patients receiving at least one of these adjuncts.

Conclusions: Variability exists in postoperative opioid prescribing habits between trainee and attending physicians at the academic training institution we accessed. In light of the ongoing opioid epidemic, institutions may benefit from standardized postoperative pain protocols.

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