Michigan Medicine study finds similar health outcomes in opioid and non-opioid post-surgery medications – State of Reform

Michigan Medicine study finds similar health outcomes in opioid and non-opioid post-surgery medications – State of Reform

A recent study from Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan Health shows post-surgery opioid and non-opioid pain treatments have the same health outcomes, pain control, and patient satisfaction. The study said surgeons can provide pain relief without prescribing opioids and risking dangerous repercussions of long-term opioid abuse. 


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The study had 22,000 participants from 70 hospitals who underwent common surgeries from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 of 2019. They found post-surgery medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, or non-opioid pain relievers, did not lead to higher pain levels and did not diminish patient satisfaction of care and pain relief. The data analyzed was from 2019 Michigan-wide surgical care registry and patient surveys. 

Of the participants, 86% received an opioid prescription and 14% received a non-opioid prescription. Out of both groups, 82% said they were highly satisfied with their care and 93% from both groups said they do not regret their surgery. Ryan Howard, M.D., the study’s lead author and surgical resident at Michigan Medicine, said:

“Opioids have been a routine part of post-surgical pain care for decades, but the risk that they could lead to persistent use has been clearly documented. Perhaps it’s time to make them the exception, not the rule.”

According to the study, those who had non-opioid treatment were more likely to report no pain within the first week after their surgery as compared to those on opioids. Non-opioid patients were also more likely to report the best quality of life after surgery. 

12% of both groups had an adverse event within 30 days after surgery, showing no difference in potential complications between the two groups. Mark Bicket, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of Michigan OPEN and senior author of the study, said:

“This study clearly shows no difference in pain, major adverse events, or patient-centered outcomes when opioids aren’t prescribed. The growing body of evidence about the risks of opioid medications to the patient, and to others who might misuse leftover pills from the patient’s prescriptions, has to be considered together with evidence about their relative effectiveness for pain control.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 78%—or 2,011—of drug overdose deaths in the state involved at least one opioid. Of the 2,011 deaths, 556 involved prescription opioids. The same report shows Michigan providers wrote 62.7 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people, which is 11.3 prescriptions more than the national average. 

To assist surgeons and acute care providers, the authors of the study created a free, evidence-based web guide to determine if opioids are needed depending on the situation.