Associations of opioid prescription dose and discontinuation with risk of substance-related morbidity in long-term opioid therapy

Pain. 2022 Apr 1;163(4):e588-e595. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000002415.


Efforts to reduce opioid-related harms have decreased opioid prescription but have provoked concerns about unintended consequences, particularly for long-term opioid therapy (LtOT) recipients. Research is needed to address the knowledge gap regarding how risk of substance-related morbidity changes across LtOT and its discontinuation. This study used nationwide commercial insurance claims data and a within-individual design to examine associations of LtOT dose and discontinuation with substance-related morbidity. We identified 194,839 adolescents and adults who initiated opioid prescription in 2010 to 2018 and subsequently received LtOT. The cohort was followed for a median of 965 days (interquartile range, 525-1550), of which a median of 176 days (119-332) were covered by opioid prescription. During follow-up, there were 17,582 acute substance-related morbidity events, defined as claims for emergency visits, inpatient hospitalizations, and ambulance transportation with substance use disorder or overdose diagnoses. Relative to initial treatment, risk was greater within individual during subsequent periods of >60 to 120 (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 1.29; 95% CI, 1.12 to 1.49) and >120 (OR, 1.48; 95% CI, 1.24-1.76) daily morphine milligram equivalents. Risk was also greater during days 1 to 30 after discontinuations than during initial treatment (OR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.05-1.35). However, it was no greater than during the 30 days before discontinuations, indicating that the risk may not be wholly attributable to discontinuation itself. Results were supported by a negative control pharmacotherapy analysis and additional sensitivity analyses. They suggest that LtOT recipients may experience increased substance-related morbidity risk during treatment subsequent to initial opioid prescription, particularly in periods involving higher doses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Drug Overdose*
  • Humans
  • Morbidity
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Prescriptions
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Analgesics, Opioid