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High-dose opioid prescribing and opioid-related hospitalization: a population-based study

Spooner L, Fernandes K, Martins D, Juurlink D, Mamdani M, Paterson JM, Singh S, Gomes T. PLoS One. 2016; 11(12):e0167479.


Aims — To examine the impact of national clinical practice guidelines and provincial drug policy interventions on prevalence of high-dose opioid prescribing and rates of hospitalization for opioid toxicity.

Design — Interventional time-series analysis.

Setting — Ontario, Canada, from 2003 to 2014.

Participants — Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) beneficiaries aged 15 to 64 years from 2003 to 2014.

Interventions — Publication of Canadian clinical practice guidelines for use of opioids in chronic non-cancer pain (May 2010) and implementation of Ontario’s Narcotics Safety and Awareness Act (NSAA; November 2011).

Measurements — Three outcomes were explored: the rate of opioid use among ODB beneficiaries, the prevalence of opioid prescriptions exceeding 200 mg and 400 mg morphine equivalents per day, and rates of opioid-related emergency department visits and hospital admissions.

Findings — Over the 12 year study period, the rate of opioid use declined 15.2%, from 2764 to 2342 users per 10,000 ODB eligible persons. The rate of opioid use was significantly impacted by the Canadian clinical practice guidelines (p-value=.03) which led to a decline in use, but no impact was observed by the enactment of the NSAA (p-value=.43). Among opioid users, the prevalence of high-dose prescribing doubled (from 4.2% to 8.7%) over the study period. By 2014, 40.9% of recipients of long-acting opioids exceeded daily doses of 200 mg morphine or equivalent, including 55.8% of long-acting oxycodone users and 76.3% of transdermal fentanyl users. Moreover, in the last period, 18.7% of long-acting opioid users exceeded daily doses of 400 mg morphine or equivalent. Rates of opioid-related emergency department visits and hospital admissions increased 55.0% over the study period from 9.0 to 14.0 per 10,000 ODB beneficiaries from 2003 to 2013. This rate was not significantly impacted by the Canadian clinical practice guidelines (p-value=.68) or enactment of the NSAA (p-value=.59).

Conclusions — Although the Canadian clinical practice guidelines for use of opioids in chronic non-cancer pain led to a decline in opioid prescribing rates among ODB beneficiaries these guidelines and subsequent Ontario legislation did not result in a significant change in rates of opioid-related hospitalizations. Given the prevalence of high dose opioid prescribing in this population, this suggests that improved strategies and programs for the safe prescribing of long-acting opioids are needed.

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Keywords: Opioids Addiction Hospitalization

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