Questions for Lead Author Anna Rui, Health Statistician, of “Trends in Opioids Prescribed at Discharge From Emergency Departments Among Adults: United States, 2006–2017.”
Q: Why did you decide to look at opioid prescribing at emergency department discharges?
AR: There is a large body of research reporting increases in opioid prescription rates from 1999 to 2010 but less is known about how rates have changed from 2010 on, particularly in the emergency department setting, where many patients present with pain symptoms and are likely to receive opioids for treatment. In response to the opioid epidemic, hundreds of local, state, and federal programs were implemented in recent years with the goal of changing prescribing practices. A goal of this report was to evaluate recent trends in opioid prescribing, in order to monitor the effects of public health policy.
Q: How did the data vary by patient/hospital characteristics and in the type of opioids prescribed at discharge?
AR: Variation in the rate of change was found for age, patient residence, and primary expected source of payment. The rate of decrease in the percentage of visits with an opioid prescribed at discharge by younger patients aged 18-44 from both the beginning of the study period (2006-2007) and from the inflection point (2010-2011) to the end of the study period (2016-2017) was the highest across all age groups. Similarly, the percentage of visits by patients living in medium or small metropolitan counties decreased by the highest percentage across the study period among all urban and rural categories. Both Medicaid and self-pay/no charge/charity experienced the highest rate of decrease from 2010-2011 through 2016-2017 whereas the percentage of visits by patients with Medicare that included an opioid prescribed at discharge remained stable across the study period.
In terms of hospital characteristics, among the four regions, the largest decrease in opioids prescribed at discharge from 2006-2007 to 2016-2017 was observed in the Northeast region. Generally, a higher percentage of visits at proprietary (or for-profit) hospital EDs, compared with nonprofit and government hospital EDs, included an opioid prescribed at discharge. Despite the high percentage, the rate of decrease among visits made to proprietary hospital EDs from 2006-2007 through 2016-2017 was modest.
In terms of the type of opioids prescribed, the percentage of opioid mentions with acetaminophen-hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) prescribed remained stable through 2012-2013 and decreased starting from 2014-2015. Corresponding to this decrease, the percentage of opioid mentions with tramadol and acetaminophen-codeine, which are known as having a lesser risk of dependence, increased starting in 2014-2015 and continued through 2016-2017.
Q: Was there a specific finding in the data that surprised you?
AR: One finding that surprised me was the magnitude of decrease in the percentage of opioids prescribed from 2010-2011 through 2016-2017 for most of the pain-related diagnoses. For example, the percentage of visits for extremity and back pain decreased by 68.8% and 49.1%, respectively, between 2010-2011 and 2016-2017.
Q: How did you obtain this data for this report?
AR: Restricted data (available from the Research Data Center) collected from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey were used for this report. Masked public use data are available for download from the Ambulatory Health Care Data website (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/ahcd/datasets_documentation_related.htm)
Q: What is the take home message for this report?
AR: I think the take home message of the report is recent trends show a decrease in the percentage of visits with opioids prescribed at discharge from 2010-2011 through 2016-2017, and this trend was observed for most of the patient and hospital characteristics examined, as well as for most of the pain-related diagnoses prompting the ED visit.