Objectives: To describe changes in the prevalence and severity of pain and prescribing of non-opioid analgesics in US emergency departments (EDs) from 2000 to 2010.
Methods: Analysis of serial cross-sectional data regarding ED visits from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Visits were limited to patients ≥18 years old without malignancy. Outcome measures included annual volume of visits among adults with a primary symptom or diagnosis of pain, annual rates of patient-reported pain severity, and predictors of non-opioid receipt for non-malignant pain.
Results: Rates of pain remained stable, representing approximately 45% of visits from 2000 through 2010. Patients reported pain as their primary symptom twice as often as providers reported a primary pain diagnosis (40% vs 20%). The percentage of patients reporting severe pain increased from 25% (95% confidence intervals [CI] 22%-27%) in 2003 to 40% (CI 37%-42%) in 2008. From 2000 to 2010, the proportion of pain visits treated with pharmacotherapies increased from 56% (CI 53%-58%) to 71% (CI 69%-72%), although visits treated exclusively with non-opioids decreased 21% from 28% (CI 27%-30%) to 22% (CI 20%-23%). The adjusted odds of non-opioid rather than opioid receipt were greater among visits for patients 18 to 24 years old (odds ratio [OR] 1.35, CI 1.24-1.46), receiving fewer medicines (OR 2.91, CI 2.70-3.15) and those with a diagnosis of mental illness (OR 2.24, CI 1.99-2.52).
Conclusions: Large increases in opioid utilization in EDs have coincided with reductions in the use of non-opioid analgesics and an unchanging prevalence of pain among patients.
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