Parental Anxiety Predicts Post-Op Opioid Use in Children

Published on 
February 24, 2020
Lindsay Andras, MD
Lindsay Andras, MD - Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Children with anxious parents are more than twice as likely to be taking narcotics at their first post-operative visit.

Research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has uncovered a surprising predictor of post-operative opioid use in children: a parent’s anxiety level.

The prospective study, led by Lindsay Andras, MD, in the Jackie and Gene Autry Orthopedic Center, found that children with high-anxiety parents were more than twice as likely to be taking narcotic medications at the first post-operative visit.

The team studied 50 female patients, ages 11 to 20, and their parents. All patients underwent posterior spinal fusion surgery for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.

“Since parental anxiety is associated with prolonged narcotic use in patients after surgery, there may be an opportunity to lessen this narcotic use by addressing parents’ concerns before surgery,” Dr. Andras says.

Patients in the study completed the Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale at the pre-operative appointment, while their parents completed the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. High parental anxiety was defined as one standard deviation above the normative mean.

The study found that:

  • At the first post-operative visit, 50% of patients with high-anxiety-trait parents were taking narcotics, compared with 21% of those with normal-anxiety parents.
  • There was no correlation between a parent’s anxiety scores and those of their child.
  • Patient anxiety was not associated with post-surgical narcotic use.

Dr. Andras presented the team’s findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Meeting in October, and at the European Pediatric Orthopaedic Society Annual Meeting in April 2019.

The Jackie and Gene Autry Orthopedic Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees the most pediatric spine patients in the western U.S. In fiscal year 2019, the Center’s faculty published 40 research publications.