How to Increase Opioid Disposal After Surgery

Americans have a lot of leftover pills. Surgical practices are in the driver's seat.

Have you checked your medicine cabinet recently?

According to a 2018 study, the average orthopedic surgeon writes 438 opioid prescriptions every year, behind only pain management and PM&R. Of those pills, between 42% - 71% go completely unused. Less than 10% of those are properly disposed of. 

This translates to thousands of leftover pills in medicine cabinets, every year, for every surgeon in America.

While conversations around opioid safety often center around those patients receiving opioids, SAMHSA surveys have consistently shown that friends and relatives of opioid patients—rather than those prescribed—are the primary drivers of prescription opioid misuse.

If we want to decrease opioid misuse, then, it ought to start with decreasing the oceans of excess pills floating around medicine cabinets. The fastest way to do that is changing how we educate patients.

Literature, videos, and verbal instruction

It sounds easy, but proper education may be less common than you’d think—as few as one-in-four surgical patients receive any instructions about opioid disposal.

As a result, even the simplest intervention can have a substantial impact on outcomes. A 2018 study found that providing a brochure about disposal—and nothing else—doubled the number of patients who disposed unused meds. Researchers from the University of Michigan showed similar—albeit smaller—effects with a single pamphlet. 

These results are promising, and suggest that post-surgical diversion may be significantly mitigated with extremely low-cost education. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that any pamphlet will help.

The words we use matter

The quality of education has profound impacts on how patients respond to health education. Education that is vague or imprecise risks limited behavior change by patients, while patient education that effectively communicates severity and quantifies risk can have substantial impacts on how patients understand and respond to interventions.

This is why high-quality, research-based patient education is so essential for every surgical practice, and why it is baked into Scriptulate's post-op interventions. Rather than simply warning patients to dispose of their drugs, our diversion interventions:

  • quantify the risk of diversion
  • offer clear disposal instructions
  • avoid blame and shame
  • appear once pain should have subsided

Whether or not your practice uses Scriptulate, you can use these principles to create fast interventions that can tangibly protect your patients' families.

If you want to learn more about our approach, schedule a call.

It's time to prescribe with confidence

or call us at 202 - 844 - 2827