Questions for Lead Author Anna Rui, Health Statistician, of “Opioids Prescribed at Discharge or Given During Emergency Department Visits Among Adults in the United States, 2016.”
Q: Why did you decide to focus on opioids prescribed at discharge or given during emergency department visits in the United States for this report?
Prescription opioid abuse and overdose continue to be critical public health issues. Opioid misuse, abuse, and overdose are affected by multiple factors including the number of people exposed. The Emergency Department (ED) is one setting where people could become exposed to opioids. In 2016, 27.5% of adult ED visits included opioids given in the ED, prescribed at ED discharge, or both (data not shown in report). The ED setting is where people frequently receive their first opioid treatment, after which patients with moderate to severe pain are often sent home with a prescription for an opioid, leaving them with the option of filling/not filling the prescription, or diverting filled prescriptions.
In the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), information is collected on whether drugs are given during the ED visit, prescribed at discharge, or both. However, in our published reports, the focus is on estimates of drugs and visits with drugs rather than how they are administered. I wanted to assess visits with opioids prescribed at discharge separately to see how they compared with those given in the ED, in order to glean new information that has not previously been reported. This could hopefully provide additional insight into patient populations visiting the ED who are exposed to opioids.
Q: How do rates of visits with opioids only given in the ED compare with opioids only prescribed at discharge and visits with both given and prescribed opioids?
AR: Generally, the rate of ED visits with opioids given during the visit was higher than the rate of ED visits with opioids prescribed at discharge. Compared with the rate of ED visits with opioids prescribed at discharge, the rate where opioids were only given in the ED was higher among patients aged 45 and over and for both women and men. Adults aged 18-44 were more likely to receive a prescription for an opioid at discharge compared with adults 45 and over.
Q: How did the data vary by emergency department visits where opioids were given, prescribed or both by primary diagnosis?
AR: The type of opioid administration among ED visits where opioids were given, prescribed, or both varied for certain selected diagnoses. For visits with a primary diagnosis of injury or trauma with opioids given or prescribed, the percentage with opioids only prescribed at discharge (40.7%) was higher than both the percentage of visits with opioids only given at the ED visit (26.3%) and visits with opioids both given and prescribed at discharge (32.7). Conversely, at visits for chest pain and abdominal pain with opioids given and/or prescribed, a higher percentage of opioids were only given at the ED visit. There was no variation across the types of opioid administration for back pain and extremity pain.
Q: Was there a specific finding in your report that surprised you?
AR:I was surprised at the high percentages of visits with opioids prescribed at discharge compared with those only given in the ED for certain diagnoses. For example, among visits with a primary diagnosis of injury or trauma and where opioids were given or prescribed, a total of 73.4% included an opioid prescription at discharge. Among visits primarily for extremity pain and where opioids were given or prescribed, 67.9% included an opioid prescription at discharge. Finally, among visits primarily for back pain in which opioids were given or prescribed, 64.5% included an opioid prescription at discharge. However I should also note that these estimates are based only on visits where the patient got opioids during the visit or at discharge. For example, there are other ED visits made for injury where the patient did not get opioids at all, but we did not assess this in the report.
Q: Do you foresee the number of prescription opioids at emergency department visits increasing in the future?
AR: We do not make predictions about future data trends, but other research published by CDC for recent years showed stable or declining trends in the percentage of visits with opioids given in the ED, prescribed at discharge, or both.