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Association between sustained opioid prescription and frequent emergency department use: a cohort study


Background Chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP) is common among frequent emergency department (ED) users, although factors underlying this association are unclear. This study estimated the association between sustained opioid use and frequent ED use among patients with CNCP.

Methods Retrospective cohort study using a Canadian provincial health insurer database (Régie d’Assurance Maladie du Québec). The database included adults with both ≥1 chronic condition and ≥ 1 ED visit in 2012 or 2013. Inclusion in the study further required a CNCP diagnosis, public drug insurance coverage and 1-year survival after the first ED visit in 2012 or 2013 (index visit). Multivariable logistic regression was used to derive ORs of frequent ED use (≥5 visits in the year following the index visit) subsequent to sustained opioid use (≥60 days opioids prescription within 90 days preceding the index visit), adjusting for important covariables.

Results From 576 688 patients in the database, 58 237 were included in the study. Of these, 4109 (7.1%) had received a sustained opioid prescription and 4735 (8.1%) were frequent ED users in the follow-up year. Sustained opioid use was not associated with frequent ED use in the multivariable model (OR: 1.06, 95% CI 0.94 to 1.19). Novel associated covariables were benzodiazepine prescription (OR: 1.21, 95% CI 1.12 to 1.30) and polypharmacy (OR: 1.23, 95% CI 1.13 to 1.34).

Conclusions Due to confounding by social and medical vulnerability, patients with CNCP with sustained opioid use appear to have a higher propensity for frequent ED use in unadjusted models. However, sustained opioid use was not associated with frequent ED use in these patients after adjustment.

  • pain management
  • primary health care

Data availability statement

Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. Data may be obtained from the Régie d’Assurance Maladie du Québec (RAMQ).

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