Analgesic prescribing for patients who are discharged from an emergency department

Pain Med. 2010 Jul;11(7):1072-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2010.00884.x.


Objectives: Among patients who arrive at an emergency department (ED) with pain, over half remain in moderate or severe pain at ED discharge. Our objectives were to identify ED physicians' prescribing patterns when discharging patients with common musculoskeletal conditions and to determine if disparities in opioid prescribing exist.

Design: Five-year retrospective investigation.

Setting: An urban, academic ED with approximately 100,000 annual visits, where physicians write discharge prescriptions, including over-the-counter medications, using a computerized order entry system.

Patients: Adult patients who were discharged home from an ED with fractures (clavicle or long bone fractures) or non-fracture musculoskeletal diagnoses (sprains, strains, sciatica, or back pain).

Outcome measures: Patient demographics and pain medications prescribed for use at home.

Results: The study sample included 13,335 patients with a mean age of 39 years. Half were female; 52% were white; 39% were black; and 7% were Hispanic. Among fracture patients, 77% received an opioid prescription, 2% received a non-opioid prescription, and 21% received no analgesic prescription. The percentages for patients with non-fracture diagnoses were 65% (opioids), 18% (non-opioid analgesics), and 17% (no analgesic). Patients aged 80 years and older were significantly less likely to receive opioid prescriptions. Although prescribing by race for fractures was similar, significantly fewer black and Hispanic patients with non-fracture diagnoses received opioid prescriptions, compared with white patients.

Conclusions: Approximately one fifth of patients in the fracture and non-fracture groups did not receive an analgesic prescription. Age greater than 80 years and minority race/ethnic status were associated with lower rates of opioid prescribing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Indiana
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Analgesics