Effect of opioid prescribing guidelines in primary care


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Abstract

Long-term opioid use for noncancer pain is increasingly prevalent yet controversial given the risks of addiction, diversion, and overdose. Prior literature has identified the problem and proposed management guidelines, but limited evidence exists on the actual effectiveness of implementing such guidelines in a primary care setting.A multidisciplinary working group of institutional experts assembled comprehensive guidelines for chronic opioid prescribing, including monitoring and referral recommendations. The guidelines were disseminated in September 2013 to our medical center's primary care clinics via in person and electronic education.We extracted electronic medical records for patients with noncancer pain receiving opioid prescriptions (Rxs) in seasonally matched preintervention (11/1/2012–6/1/2013) and postintervention (11/1/2013–6/1/2014) periods. For patients receiving chronic (3 or more) opioid Rxs, we assessed the rates of drug screening, specialty referrals, clinic visits, emergency room visits, and quantity of opioids prescribed.After disseminating guidelines, the percentage of noncancer clinic patients receiving any opioid Rxs dropped from 3.9% to 3.4% (P = 0.02). The percentage of noncancer patients receiving chronic opioid Rxs decreased from 2.0% to 1.6% (P = 0.03). The rate of urine drug screening increased from 9.2% to 17.3% (P = 0.005) amongst noncancer chronic opioid patients. No significant differences were detected for other metrics or demographics assessed.An educational intervention for primary care opioid prescribing is feasible and was temporally associated with a modest reduction in overall opioid Rx rates. Provider use of routine drug screening increased, but overall rates of screening and specialty referral remained low despite the intervention. Despite national pressures to introduce opioid prescribing guidelines for chronic pain, doing so alone does not necessarily yield substantial changes in clinical practice.

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