Patient Preference for Pain Medication in the Emergency Department Is Associated with Non-fatal Overdose History

West J Emerg Med. 2018 Jul;19(4):722-730. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2018.4.37019. Epub 2018 Jun 11.


Introduction: Opioid overdose is a major public health problem. Emergency physicians need information to better assess a patient's risk for overdose or opioid-related harms. The purpose of this study was to determine if patient-reported preference for specific pain medications was associated with a history of lifetime overdose among patients seeking care in the emergency department (ED).

Methods: ED patients (18-60 years) completed a screening survey that included questions on overdose history, ED utilization, opioid misuse behaviors as measured by the Current Opioid Misuse Measure (COMM), and analgesic medication preferences for previous ED visits for pain with specific responses for preference for hydromorphone (Dilaudid®), morphine, ketorolac (Toradol®), "no preference" or "never visited the ED for pain." We compared individuals who reported a lifetime history of overdose descriptively to those without a lifetime history of overdose. Logistic regression was used to determine factors associated with a history of overdose.

Results: We included 2,233 adults in the analysis (71.5% response rate of patients approached) with 532 reporting at least one lifetime overdose. In the univariate analysis, medication preference was significantly associated with overdose history (p < .001); more patients in the overdose group reported preferring morphine and hydromorphone and those without a history of overdose were more likely to have no preference or say they had never visited the ED for pain. In the logistic regression analysis, patients with higher odds of overdose included those of Caucasian race, participants with a higher COMM score, preference for ketorolac, morphine or hydromorphone. Those who were younger, female and reported never having visited the ED for pain had lower odds of reporting a lifetime overdose. Having "any preference" corresponded to 48% higher odds of lifetime overdose.

Conclusion: Patients with a pain medication preference have higher odds of having a lifetime overdose compared to patients without a specific pain medication preference, even after accounting for level of opioid misuse. This patient-reported preference could cue emergency physicians to identifying high-risk patients for overdose and other substance-related harms.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Drug Overdose / prevention & control*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydromorphone / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Patient Preference*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Morphine
  • Hydromorphone