Opioid-Prescribing Metrics in Washington State: Trends and Challenges

J Public Health Manag Pract. May/Jun 2020;26(3):214-221. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000001149.


Context: Analyses of prescribing trends using prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) are impacted by changes in reporting requirements and in the scheduling of medications by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration changed the status of tramadol from an unscheduled to a scheduled medication. The addition of tramadol to the PDMP may affect the prevalence of opioid-prescribing metrics and the interpretation of prescribing trends.

Objective: The objectives were to (1) examine trends in opioid prescribing in Washington State between 2012 and 2017, (2) assess the potential impact of adding tramadol to PDMP on these trends, and (3) describe challenges in defining and implementing opioid-prescribing metrics.

Design: Analysis of quarterly summary statistics of opioid prescribing.

Setting: Washington State.

Participants: Washington State residents.

Main outcome measures: The metrics include measures of opioid prescribing overall and by age group, chronic opioid prescribing, high-dose prescribing among those on chronic opioid therapy, prescribing of concurrent opioids and sedatives, days' supply of new opioid prescriptions, and transition from short-term to long-term use of opioids.

Results: In Washington, the prevalence of any opioid prescribing, chronic opioid prescribing, high-dose opioid prescribing, and prescribing of concurrent opioids and sedatives declined between 2012 and 2017. The prevalence of opioid prescribing was higher in older than in younger age groups. The addition of tramadol to the Washington PDMP in 2014 affected the observed prevalence of all opioid metrics and of all opioid-prescribing trends. Conclusions about trends in opioid prescribing differ substantially depending on whether tramadol is included or not, particularly in 2014 and 2015.

Conclusions: The development of opioid-prescribing metrics is relatively new. There is likely much benefit of standard definitions of opioid metrics at the state and national levels to track important trends and compare progress from state to state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs / statistics & numerical data
  • Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs / trends*
  • Washington


  • Analgesics, Opioid