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Pharmacy Practice


Importance: Prolonged opioid use after surgery may be associated with opioid dependency and increased health care use. However, published studies have reported varying estimates of the magnitude of prolonged opioid use and risk factors associated with the transition of patients to long-term opioid use.

Objectives: To evaluate the rate and characteristics of patient-level risk factors associated with increased risk of prolonged use of opioids after surgery.

Data Sources: For this systematic review and meta-analysis, a search of MEDLINE, Embase, and Google Scholar from inception to August 30, 2017, was performed, with an updated search performed on June 30, 2019. Key words may include opioid analgesics, general surgery, surgical procedures, persistent opioid use, and postoperative pain.

Study Selection: Of 7534 articles reviewed, 33 studies were included. Studies were included if they involved participants 18 years or older, evaluated opioid use 3 or more months after surgery, and reported the rate and adjusted risk factors associated with prolonged opioid use after surgery.

Data Extraction and Synthesis: The Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE) and Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) reporting guidelines were followed. Two reviewers independently assessed and extracted the relevant data.

Main Outcomes and Measures: The weighted pooled rate and odds ratios (ORs) of risk factors were calculated using the random-effects model.

Results: The 33 studies included 1 922 743 individuals, with 1 854 006 (96.4%) from the US. In studies with available sex and age information, participants were mostly female (1 031 399; 82.7%) and had a mean (SD) age of 59.3 (12.8) years. The pooled rate of prolonged opioid use after surgery was 6.7% (95% CI, 4.5%-9.8%) but decreased to 1.2% (95% CI, 0.4%-3.9%) in restricted analyses involving only opioid-naive participants at baseline. The risk factors with the strongest associations with prolonged opioid use included preoperative use of opioids (OR, 5.32; 95% CI, 2.94-9.64) or illicit cocaine (OR, 4.34; 95% CI, 1.50-12.58) and a preoperative diagnosis of back pain (OR, 2.05; 95% CI, 1.63-2.58). No significant differences were observed with various study-level factors, including a comparison of major vs minor surgical procedures (pooled rate: 7.0%; 95% CI, 4.9%-9.9% vs 11.1%; 95% CI, 6.0%-19.4%; P = .20). Across all of our analyses, there was substantial variability because of heterogeneity instead of sampling error.

Conclusions and Relevance: The findings suggest that prolonged opioid use after surgery may be a substantial burden to public health. It appears that strategies, such as proactively screening for at-risk individuals, should be prioritized.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.