Objective To quantify the effects of varying opioid prescribing patterns after surgery on dependence, overdose, or abuse in an opioid naive population. Design Retrospective cohort study. Setting Surgical claims from a linked medical and pharmacy administrative database of 37 651 619 commercially insured patients between 2008 and 2016. Participants 1 015 116 opioid naive patients undergoing surgery. Main outcome measures Use of oral opioids after discharge as defined by refills and total dosage and duration of use. The primary outcome was a composite of misuse identified by a diagnostic code for opioid dependence, abuse, or overdose. Results 568 612 (56.0%) patients received postoperative opioids, and a code for abuse was identified for 5906 patients (0.6%, 183 per 100 000 person years). Total duration of opioid use was the strongest predictor of misuse, with each refill and additional week of opioid use associated with an adjusted increase in the rate of misuse of 44.0% (95% confidence interval 40.8% to 47.2%, P<0.001), and 19.9% increase in hazard (18.5% to 21.4%, P<0.001), respectively. Conclusions Each refill and week of opioid prescription is associated with a large increase in opioid misuse among opioid naive patients. The data from this study suggest that duration of the prescription rather than dosage is more strongly associated with ultimate misuse in the early postsurgical period. The analysis quantifies the association of prescribing choices on opioid misuse and identifies levers for possible impact.
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