Background Sex differences in pain experience and expression may influence ED pain management. Our objective was to evaluate the effect of sex on ED opioid administration.
Methods We conducted a multicentre population-based observational cohort study using administrative data from Calgary’s four EDs between 2017 and 2018. Eligible patients had a presenting complaint belonging to one of nine pain categories or an arrival pain score >3. We performed multivariable analyses to identify predictors of opioid administration and stratified analyses by age, pain severity and pain category.
Results We studied 119 510 patients (mean age 47.4 years; 55.4% female). Opioid administration rates were similar for men and women. After adjusting for age, hospital site, pain category, ED length of stay and pain severity, male sex was not a predictor of opioid treatment (adjusted OR (aOR)=0.93; 95% CI 0.85 to 1.02). However, men were more likely to receive opioids in the categories of trauma (aOR=1.58, 95% CI 1.40 to 1.78), flank pain (aOR=1.24, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.38), headache (aOR=1.18, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.34) and abdominal pain (aOR=1.11, 95% CI 1.08 to 1.18). Pain category appears to be a strong determinant of opioid administration, especially back pain (aOR=6.56, 95% CI 5.99 to 7.19) and flank pain (aOR=6.04, 95% CI 5.48 to 6.65). There was significant variability in opioid provision by ED site (aOR 0.76 to 1.24).
Conclusions This population-based study demonstrated high variability in opioid use across different settings. Overall, men and women had similar likelihood of receiving opioids; however men with trauma, flank pain, headache and abdominal pain were much more likely to receive opioids. ED physicians should self-examine their analgesic practices with respect to possible sex biases, and departments should introduce evidence-based, indication-specific analgesic protocols to reduce practice variability and optimise opioid analgesia.
- analgesia/pain control
Data availability statement
No data are available. Individual participant data are not available.
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Handling editor Simon Carley
Presented at This work has been presented at the Emergency Medicine Research Day, hosted by the Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Calgary on April 30, 2020.
Contributors TL contributed to study concept and design, analysis and interpretation of data, drafting of the manuscript and critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content. JH contributed to study concept and design, acquisition of data, analysis and interpretation of data, drafting of the manuscript, statistical expertise and critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content. SV contributed to statistical expertise and revision of the manuscript for intellectual content. GI contributed to study concept and design, acquisition of data, analysis and interpretation of data, drafting of the manuscript, statistical expertise and critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.