Opioid Use After Discharge Following Primary Unilateral Total Knee Arthroplasty: How Much Are We Over-Prescribing?

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

The Journal of arthroplasty


excess narcotics; knee arthroplasty; narcotic; opioid; opioid epidemic; pain control after TKA


BACKGROUND: The opioid crisis pressures orthopedic surgeons to reduce the amount of narcotics prescribed for post-operative pain management. This study sought to quantify post-operative opioid use after hospital discharge for primary unilateral total knee arthroplasty (TKA) patients.

METHODS: A prospective cohort of primary unilateral TKA patients performed by one of 5 senior fellowship-trained arthroplasty surgeons were enrolled at a single institution. Detailed pain journals tracked all prescriptions and over-the-counter pain medications, quantities, frequencies, and visual analog scale pain scores. Narcotic and narcotic-like pain medications were converted to morphine milligram equivalents (MME). Statistical analysis was performed using Student's t-test with α < 0.05.

RESULTS: Data from 89 subjects were analyzed; the average visual analog scale pain score was 6.92 while taking narcotics. The average number of days taking narcotics was 16.8 days. The distribution of days taking narcotics was right shifted with 52.8% of patients off narcotics after 2 week, and 74.2% off by 3 weeks post-op. The average MME prescribed was significantly greater than MME taken (866.6 vs 428.2, P < .0001). The average number of narcotic pills prescribed was significantly greater than narcotic pills taken (105.1 vs 52.0, P < .0001). The average excess narcotic pills prescribed per patient was 53.1 pills. About 48.3% took fewer than 40 narcotic pills; 75.3% took fewer than 75 narcotic pills. About 3.4% did not require any narcotics; 40.5% required a refill of narcotics. Also, 9.0% went home the day of surgery.

CONCLUSION: Significantly more narcotics were prescribed than were taken in the post-operative period following TKA with an average 53.1 excess narcotic pills per patient. Adjusting prescribing patterns to match patient narcotic usage could reduce the excess narcotic pills following TKA.

Clinical Institute

Orthopedics & Sports Medicine