Cover: Disparities in Postoperative Opioid Prescribing by Race and Ethnicity

Disparities in Postoperative Opioid Prescribing by Race and Ethnicity

An Electronic Health Records-Based Observational Study from Northern California, 2015-2020

Published in: Archives of Public Health, Volume 81, Article Number 83 (2023). doi: 10.1186/s13690-023-01095-2

Posted on May 24, 2023

by Robert J. Romanelli, Rivfka Shenoy, Meghan Martinez, Satish Mudiganti, Louis T. Mariano, Kyle Zanocco, Zachary Wagner, Allison Kirkegaard, Katherine E. Watkins


To examine racial and ethnic disparities in postoperative opioid prescribing.

Data Sources

Electronic health records (EHR) data across 24 hospitals from a healthcare delivery system in Northern California from January 1, 2015 to February 2, 2020 (study period).

Study Design

Cross-sectional, secondary data analyses were conducted to examine differences by race and ethnicity in opioid prescribing, measured as morphine milligram equivalents (MME), among patients who underwent select, but commonly performed, surgical procedures. Linear regression models included adjustment for factors that would likely influence prescribing decisions and race and ethnicity-specific propensity weights. Opioid prescribing, overall and by race and ethnicity, was also compared to postoperative opioid guidelines.

Data Extraction

Data were extracted from the EHR on adult patients undergoing a procedure during the study period, discharged to home with an opioid prescription.

Principal Findings

Among 61,564 patients, on adjusted regression analysis, non-Hispanic Black (NHB) patients received prescriptions with higher mean MME than non-Hispanic white (NHW) patients (+ 6.4% [95% confidence interval: 4.4%, 8.3%]), whereas Hispanic and non-Hispanic Asian patients received lower mean MME (-4.2% [-5.1%, -3.2%] and - 3.6% [-4.8%, -2.3%], respectively). Nevertheless, 72.8% of all patients received prescriptions above guidelines, ranging from 71.0 to 80.3% by race and ethnicity. Disparities in prescribing were eliminated among Hispanic and NHB patients versus NHW patients when prescriptions were written within guideline recommendations.


Racial and ethnic disparities in opioid prescribing exist in the postoperative setting, yet all groups received prescriptions above guideline recommendations. Policies encouraging guideline-based prescribing may reduce disparities and overall excess prescribing.

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