Skip to content

How Orthopedic Surgeons Can Combat the Opioid Epidemic

In This Article

  • Orthopedic surgeons are among the highest prescribers of opioid medications
  • Patient education is a key component to better outcomes and reducing opioid dependency among patients, according to Orthopedic Surgeon Marilyn Heng, MD
  • Dr. Heng explains that prescribing patterns after certain surgeries for fracture can lead to longer opioid use
  • She recommends analyzing data of prescribing patterns, using the state prescription monitoring program database, establishing practice guidelines for opioid prescriptions and communicating with patients to set expectations for their pain management

Orthopedic surgeons rank among the highest prescribers of opioids. How can orthopedists curb opioid prescriptions while addressing their patients’ pain, which can often be significant? Massachusetts General Hospital Orthopedic Surgeon Marilyn Heng, MD, recently shared some of her research results as well as strategies for curbing opioid prescriptions with Becker’s Spine Review.

Recent research demonstrates that an approach to pain management that minimizes narcotics exposure improves outcomes. Dr. Heng explains that talking to her patients and helping them manage their expectations around pain, which is expected with orthopedic surgery, will help them determine a level of pain they can tolerate while still being mobile. In one of her studies, she found a connection between the number of opioids prescribed after surgery with the risk for long-term use.

Dr. Heng concludes that orthopedic surgeons can be a part of the solution to the opioid crisis by analyzing the data of their prescribing practices, utilizing the state prescription monitoring program database and establishing opioid prescription guidelines for their practice. Communication with patients is also key, along with helping patients find alternatives to opioids for their pain management.

About the Department of Orthopaedics

Refer a patient to the Department of Orthopaedics

Related topics


With medical marijuana becoming legal in many states, patients want to know whether it can help them during orthopedic trauma recovery. Mass General physicians led the first research team to investigate.


After fracture surgery, patients who consume more opioids do not experience less pain or greater satisfaction than patients who consume lower amounts of opioid medication, according to past studies. Mass General researchers wondered whether the same was true specifically for ankle fracture surgery.