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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Opioid Administration and Prescribing in Older Adults in U.S. Emergency Departments (2005-2015)


Introduction: We assess trends in opioid administration and prescribing from 2005-2015 in older adults in U.S. emergency departments (ED).

Methods: We analyzed data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) survey from 2005 to 2015. ED visits for painful conditions were selected and stratified by age (18-64, 65-74, 75-84, ≥ 85 years). We analyzed trends in opioid administration in the ED and prescribing at discharge to encounters ≥ 65 and assessed predictors of use using survey-weighted chi-square tests and logistic regression. Trends in the use of five commonly prescribed opioids were also explored.

Results: Opioid administration in the ED and prescribing at discharge for encounters with patients ≥ 65 years fell overall, but not significantly.  By contrast, opioid administration in the ED and prescribing at discharge significantly declined for adult encounters 18-64 by 20% and 32%, respectively. A similar proportion of adult encounters ≥ 65 were administered opioids in the ED as 18-64, but adult encounters ≥ 85 had the lowest rates of administration. A smaller proportion of adult encounters ≥ 65 years with painful conditions were prescribed opioids at discharge compared to <65. However, this age-related disparity in prescribing narrowed over the study period. There were shifts in the specific types of opioids administered and prescribed in adult encounters ≥ 65 years over the study period, with the most notable being a 76% increase of in hydromorphone administration comparing 2005-06 to 2014-15.

Conclusion: From 2005-15, 1 in 4 to 1 in 10 ED patients with painful conditions were administered or prescribed an opioid in U.S. EDs. Opioids prescribing increased from 2005-11 and then declined from 2012-15, more so among visits in the 18-64 age group compared to ≥ 65 years. Opioid administrating demonstrated a gradual rise and decline in all adult age groups. Age consistently appears to be an important consideration, where opioid prescribing declines with advancing age. Given the nationwide opioid crisis, ED providers should remain vigilant in limiting opioids, particularly in older adults who are at higher risk for adverse effects.

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