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Evaluating the early impacts of delisting high-strength opioids on patterns of prescribing in Ontario


Introduction — Ontario delisted high-strength fentanyl, hydromorphone and morphine from the public drug formulary for non-palliative care prescribers on 31 January, 2017. Our aim is to assess the early impact of this policy on prescribing patterns and to examine whether this impact varied by prescriber type, opioid type and opioid strength.

Methods — We conducted a population-based, cross-sectional study on palliative and non-palliative care patients dispensed fentanyl, hydromorphone or morphine through the Ontario public drug program between 1 January, 2014, and 31 July, 2017. For each month during the study period, we reported the total number of high-strength opioid recipients stratified by prescriber type, and the total volume of each drug dispensed, stratified by strength. We used interventional autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) models to assess the policy's impact on prescribing patterns.

Results — We observed a 98% decrease in the total number of publicly funded recipients of high-strength opioids between December 2016 and July 2017 (5930 to 133 recipients) for all prescribers. The policy led to a significant decline in the total volume of all three opioids dispensed: hydromorphone from 20 374 621 to 16 952 097 mg (p < .01); morphine from 40 644 190 to 33 555 480 mg (p < .03); and fentanyl from 9 604 913 to 5 842 405 mcg/h (p < .01). For both fentanyl and hydromorphone, this reduction generally corresponded to an increase in the number of low-strength opioids dispensed.

Conclusion — Delisting high-strength opioids substantially reduced the number of high-strength opioid recipients and reduced the overall volume of long-acting opioids dispensed in Ontario through the public drug program. Future studies should examine its impact on patient outcomes.



Guan Q, Khuu W, Martins D, Tadrous M, Chiu M, Do MT, Gomes T. Health Promot Chronic Dis Prev Can. 2018; 38(6):256-62. Epub 2018 Jun 1.

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