Optimal postoperative opioid stewardship combines adequate pain medication to control expected discomfort while avoiding abuse and community diversion of unused prescribed opioids. We hypothesized that an opioid buyback program would motivate patients to return unused opioids, and surgeons will use that data to calibrate prescribing.
Prospective cohort study of postambulatory surgery pain management at a level II Veterans Affairs rural hospital (2017-2019). Eligible patients were offered $5/unused opioid pill ($50 limit) returned to our Veterans Affairs hospital for proper disposal. After 6 months, buyback data was shared with each surgical specialty.
Overall, 934 of 1,880 (49.7%) eligible ambulatory surgery patients were prescribed opioids and invited to participate in the opioid buyback. We had 281 patients (30%) return 3,165 unused opioid pills; this return rate remained constant over the study period. In 2017, 62.4% of patients were prescribed an opioid; after data was shared with providers, prescriptions for opioids were reduced to 50.7% and 38.3% of eligible patients in 2018 and 2019, respectively (P < .0001). The median morphine milligram equivalents prescribed also decreased from 108.8 morphine milligram equivalents in 2017 to 75.0 morphine milligram equivalents in 2018 and sustained at 75.0 morphine milligram equivalents in 2019 (P < .001). Surgical providers, surgeries performed, patient characteristics, and 30-day refill rates were similar throughout the study period.
A small financial incentive resulted in patients returning unused opioids after ambulatory surgery. Feedback to surgeons regarding opioids returned reduced the proportion of patients prescribed an opioid and the amount of opioid after ambulatory surgery without an increase in refills.

Published by Elsevier Inc.