Rochester, MI—Although 92% of surgical patients received an opioid prescription at discharge, nearly a third responding to a survey said they actually used none of those painkillers, according to a new study.

The results were presented recently at the American Surgical Association annual meeting. A study team from the Mayo Clinic emphasized that only about 8% of the patients disposed of their leftover opioids, 63% of which remained unused.

For the study, a cross-specialty team of physicians and researchers surveyed 1,907 patients who underwent 25 common surgeries at three academic medical centers. Results indicate generally high satisfaction with pain control, with only 28% of patients saying they were prescribed too many opioids and 8% reporting they were prescribed too few.

In reality, based on the survey, the median amount of opioids used per patient was the equivalent of six pills of 5-milligram oxycodone.

“This research provides a road map for physicians and surgical departments. It shows there are certain surgeries and types of patients who are likely receiving significantly more opioids than needed,” suggested senior author Elizabeth Habermann, PhD.

Older age, no history of anxiety, and a lower pain score at discharge are linked to lower use of opioids, according to the study, while factors that could potentially predict the need for more opioids include those younger in age, a history of anxiety, and a higher pain score at discharge.

“Opioid prescribing guidelines should be based on evidence, considering patient factors and the type of procedure, but also allowing for prescriber discretion,” Habermann emphasized. “This research and numerous other opioid prescribing projects at Mayo Clinic are about identifying the best approach for each individual patient, whether that’s increasing, decreasing or maintaining prescription levels.”

When opioids aren’t disposed of properly, researchers add, the risk of misuse by the patient or someone else increases. They add that reducing prescriptions, when appropriate, and educating communities on proper disposal will reduce that risk.

“A large proportion of postoperative patients reported using no or few opioids following discharge,” study authors conclude. “Guidelines should be further refined to minimize opioid prescribing and identify those patients requiring additional multi-modal pain control.”