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Trends in postpartum opioid prescribing: a time series analysis


Opioids are commonly prescribed following childbirth, but data are lacking on trends in postpartum opioid prescribing over time. We examined whether a highly-publicized 2006 case report questioning the safety of codeine during lactation was associated with changes in postpartum opioid prescribing. We conducted a cross-sectional time series analysis of all publicly-funded prescriptions for opioids to postpartum women in Ontario, Canada from April 1, 2000 to March 31, 2017. The intervention was the publication of a case report in 2006 attributing the death of a breastfeeding neonate to maternal codeine use. The primary outcome was the rate of opioid prescribing to postpartum women. Among postpartum women eligible for prescription drug coverage, 17.5% filled an opioid prescription in the third quarter of 2006 (immediately prior to publication of the case report), with codeine representing 89.8% of all prescriptions. By the fourth quarter of 2010, only 12.2% of postpartum women filled an opioid prescription, representing a decline of 30% (p<0.01), with codeine representing 71.9% of all prescriptions. During this period, we observed sizeable relative increases in the proportion of opioid prescriptions filled for morphine, hydromorphone, and oxycodone. By 2017, among women prescribed opioids postpartum, 39.0% filled a prescription for codeine, while the remainder filled prescriptions for oxycodone (18.6%), morphine (25.5%), and hydromorphone (16.9%). A highly-publicized case report questioning the safety of maternal codeine use during breastfeeding was associated with significant changes in opioid prescribing to postpartum women, including a decline in overall opioid prescribing and a shift from codeine to stronger opioids.



Zipursky JS, Pang A, Paterson J, Austin PC, Mamdani M, Gomes T, Ray JG, Juurlink DN. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2021; 110(4):1004-10. Epub 2021 May 25.

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