Identifying High-Risk Comorbidities Associated with Opioid Use Patterns Using Electronic Health Record Prescription Data

Complex Psychiatry. 2022 Sep;8(1-2):47-55. doi: 10.1159/000525313. Epub 2022 Jun 2.


Introduction: Opioid use disorders (OUDs) constitute a major public health issue, and we urgently need alternative methods for characterizing risk for OUD. Electronic health records (EHRs) are useful tools for understanding complex medical phenotypes but have been underutilized for OUD because of challenges related to underdiagnosis, binary diagnostic frameworks, and minimally characterized reference groups. As a first step in addressing these challenges, a new paradigm is warranted that characterizes risk for opioid prescription misuse on a continuous scale of severity, i.e., as a continuum.

Methods: Across sites within the PsycheMERGE network, we extracted prescription opioid data and diagnoses that co-occur with OUD (including psychiatric and substance use disorders, pain-related diagnoses, HIV, and hepatitis C) for over 2.6 million patients across three health registries (Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Mass General Brigham, Geisinger) between 2005 and 2018. We defined three groups based on levels of opioid exposure: no prescriptions, minimal exposure, and chronic exposure and then compared the comorbidity profiles of these groups to the full registries and to those with OUD diagnostic codes.

Results: Our results confirm that EHR data reflects known higher prevalence of substance use disorders, psychiatric disorders, medical, and pain diagnoses in patients with OUD diagnoses and chronic opioid use. Comorbidity profiles that distinguish opioid exposure are strikingly consistent across large health systems, indicating the phenotypes described in this new quantitative framework are robust to health systems differences.

Conclusion: This work indicates that EHR prescription opioid data can serve as a platform to characterize complex risk markers for OUD using existing data.

Keywords: Electronic health records; Opioid use disorder; Opioids; Prescription data; Substance use disorders.