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Original Investigation
July 2016

Hospital Prescribing of Opioids to Medicare Beneficiaries

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  • 3National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • 4Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • 5RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California
  • 6Division of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(7):990-997. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.2737

Importance  Use of opioids during and shortly after an acute hospitalization is warranted in some clinical settings. However, given the potential of opioids for short-term adverse events and long-term physiologic tolerance, it is important to understand the frequency of opioid prescribing at hospital discharge, hospital variation, and patient and hospital factors associated with opioid prescribing, which is currently unknown in the United States.

Objective  To estimate the frequency of opioid prescribing at hospital discharge among Medicare beneficiaries without an opioid prescription claim 60 days prior to hospitalization; to document hospital variation in prescribing; and to analyze patient and hospital factors associated with prescribing, including hospital average performance on pain-related Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) measures.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Analysis of pharmacy claims of a 20% random sample of Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized in 2011 without an opioid prescription claim in the 60 days before hospitalization.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Our main outcome was a new opioid claim within 7 days of hospital discharge. We estimated a multivariable linear probability model of patient factors associated with new opioid use and described hospital variation in adjusted rates of new opioid use. In multivariable linear regression analysis, we also analyzed hospital factors associated with average adjusted new opioid use at the hospital level, including the percentage of each hospital’s patients who reported that their pain during hospitalization was always well controlled in the 2011 HCAHPS surveys.

Results  Among 623 957 hospitalizations, 92 882 (14.9%) were associated with a new opioid claim. Among those hospitalizations with an associated opioid claim within 7 days of hospital discharge, 32 731 (42.5%) of 77 092 were associated with an opioid claim after 90 days postdischarge. Across 2512 hospitals, the average adjusted rate of new opioid use within 7 days of hospitalization was 15.1% (interquartile range, 12.3%-17.4%; interdecile range, 10.5%-20.0%). A hospital’s adjusted rate of new opioid use was modestly positively associated with the percentage of its inpatients reporting that their pain was always well managed (increase from 25th to the 75th percentile in the HCAHPS measure was associated with an absolute increase in new opioid use of 0.89 percentage points or a relative increase of 6.0%; P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance  New opioid use after hospitalization is common among Medicare beneficiaries, with substantial variation across hospitals and a large proportion of patients using a prescription opioid 90 days after hospitalization. The degree to which observed hospital variation in short- and longer-term opioid use reflects variation in inappropriate prescribing at hospital discharge is unknown.