Impact of Hospital "Best Practice" Mandates on Prescription Opioid Dispensing After an Emergency Department Visit

Acad Emerg Med. 2017 Aug;24(8):905-913. doi: 10.1111/acem.13230. Epub 2017 Jul 26.


Objective: Washington State mandated seven hospital "best practices" in July 2012, several of which may affect emergency department (ED) opioid prescribing and provide a policy template for addressing the opioid prescription epidemic. We tested the hypothesis that the mandates would reduce opioid dispensing after an ED visit. We further assessed for a selective effect in patients with prior risky or chronic opioid use.

Methods: We performed a retrospective, observational analysis of ED visits by Medicaid fee-for-service beneficiaries in Washington State, between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2013. We used an interrupted time-series design to control for temporal trends and patient characteristics. The primary outcome was any opioid dispensing within 3 days after an ED visit. The secondary outcome was total morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) dispensed within 3 days.

Results: We analyzed 266,614 ED visits. Mandates were associated with a small reduction in opioid dispensing after an ED visit (-1.5%, 95% confidence interval [CI] = -2.8% to -0.15%). The mandates were associated with decreased opioid dispensing in 42,496 ED visits by patients with prior risky opioid use behavior (-4.7%, 95% CI = -7.1% to -2.3%) and in 20,238 visits by patients with chronic opioid use (-3.6%, 95% CI = -5.6% to -1.7%). Mandates were not associated with reductions in MMEs per dispense in the overall cohort or in either subgroup.

Conclusions: Washington State best practice mandates were associated with small but nonselective reductions in opioid prescribing rates. States should focus on alternative policies to further reduce opioid dispensing in subgroups of high-risk and chronic users.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hospitals / standards*
  • Humans
  • Interrupted Time Series Analysis
  • Male
  • Medicaid
  • Middle Aged
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States
  • Washington / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Morphine