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Impact of COVID-19 on opioid use in those awaiting hip and knee arthroplasty: a retrospective cohort study


Background COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on access to hip and knee arthroplasty surgery. We set out to examine whether this had a subsequent impact on preoperative opioid prescribing rates for those awaiting surgery.

Methods Data regarding patient demographics and opioid utilisation were collected from the electronic health records of included patients at a large university teaching hospital. Patients on the outpatient waiting list for primary hip and knee arthroplasty as of September 2020 (COVID-19 group) were compared with historical controls (Controls) who had previously undergone surgery. A sample size calculation indicated 452 patients were required to detect a 15% difference in opioid prescription rates between groups.

Results A total of 548 patients (58.2% female) were included, 260 in the COVID-19 group and 288 in the Controls. Baseline demographics were similar between the groups. For those with data available, the proportion of patients on any opioid at follow-up in the COVID-19 group was significantly higher: 55.0% (143/260) compared with 41.2% (112/272) in the Controls (p=0.002). This remained significant when adjusted for confounding (age, gender, Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, procedure and wait time). The proportion of patients on a strong opioid was similar (4.2% (11/260) vs 4.8% (13/272)) for COVID-19 and Controls, respectively. The median waiting time from referral to follow-up was significantly longer in the COVID-19 group compared with the Controls (455 days vs 365 days; p<0.0001).

Conclusion The work provides evidence of potential for an emerging opioid problem associated with the influence of COVID-19 on elective arthroplasty services. Viable alternatives to opioid analgesia for those with end-stage arthritis should be explored, and prolonged waiting times for surgery ought to be avoided in the recovery from COVID-19 to prevent more widespread opioid use.

  • COVID-19
  • pharmacoepidemiology
  • surgery

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Aggregated anonymised data is available on request.

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