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Rates of Prescription Opiate Use Before and After Injury in Patients with Orthopaedic Trauma and the Risk Factors for Prolonged Opiate Use
Joel E. Holman, MD1; Gregory J. Stoddard, MPH1; Thomas F. Higgins, MD1
1 Department of Orthopaedics, University of Utah, 590 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City, UT 84108. E-mail address for T.F. Higgins: thomas.higgins@hsc.utah.edu
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Investigation performed at the Department of Orthopaedics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

Disclosure: One or more of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of an aspect of this work. None of the authors, or their institution(s), have had any financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with any entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. Also, no author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

Copyright © 2013 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2013 Jun 19;95(12):1075-1080. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.L.00619
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The prudent use of prescription opiate medications is a central aspect of postoperative pain management. The mortality associated with prescription opiate overdose is reaching epidemic proportions nationally, and is the leading cause of accidental death in greater than half the states in the United States. This study sought to determine the rates of preinjury opiate use in patients with orthopaedic trauma and the risk factors for prolonged use postinjury.


The Utah Controlled Substance Database was queried to determine the use of prescription opiates by all patients admitted to the orthopaedic trauma service for a two-year period with isolated musculoskeletal injuries. Usage three months prior to injury and six months postinjury was examined.


Six hundred and thirteen patients met inclusion criteria. Among patients with orthopaedic trauma, 15.5% had filled a prescription for opiates in the three months prior to injury, compared with 9.2% of the general population (p < 0.001). More than one prescription was filled by 12.2% of the patients with trauma preinjury compared with 6.4% of the general population (p < 0.001). Postoperatively, 68.4% of all patients filled opiate prescriptions for less than six weeks, 11.9% filled opiate prescriptions between six and twelve weeks, and 19.7% filled opiate prescriptions past twelve weeks. Patients with preinjury use of more than one opiate prescription in the three months preinjury were six times as likely to continue use past twelve weeks, and 3.5 times as likely to obtain opiates from a provider other than their surgeon (p < 0.001). Opiate use was briefest with upper-extremity injuries, followed by lower-extremity injuries and pelvic or acetabular injuries. Regression models demonstrate that risk factors for prolonged use of opiates include advancing age and extent of preinjury use.


Patients with orthopaedic trauma are significantly more likely than the general population to use prescription opiates prior to injury. Preinjury opiate use is predictive of prolonged use postinjury and predictive of patients who will seek opiates from other providers.

Level of Evidence: 

Prognostic Level II. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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    Accreditation Statement
    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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