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Research Review

Opioid Prescribing Rates on 14-Year Decline in Pediatric Orthopaedic Injuries, Decreased by More Than 50%

Prevention efforts to combat the opioid crisis by limiting early exposure are working in the pediatric population, according to a study released as part of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ Virtual Education Experience. The study found that between 2004 and 2017 opioid prescription rates decreased from 60% to 27.8%, a 52% drop, in pediatric patients between 10 and 18 years old who sought care for a minor fracture or dislocation in an acute care setting. However, patients in the South and Midwest were more frequently prescribed opioids, pointing to a need for further preventative measures.

In 2016, 769,000 children 12 to 17 years old misused opioids, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Between 1999 and 2016, 8,986 children and adolescents died from prescription and illicit opioid poisonings. The use of prescribed opioids in high school led to a 33% increase in the risk of abusing opioids in the future, according to a 2015 study. Abusing opioids at an early age can serve as a gateway drug to more dangerous opiates, such as heroin.

“The statistics on opioid-related misuse are alarming and reducing the use of opioids in pediatric orthopaedic patients is essential,” says John M. Flynn, MD, FAAOS, chief of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “As orthopaedic surgeons, we have a responsibility to realize that our surgical patients are more likely to die from their pain medicine than from the injury or operation.”

The researchers conducted a retrospective review utilizing 14 years (2004–2017) of data from the Pediatric Health Information System to identify emergency department and clinic visits for the 10 most frequently encountered pediatric fractures and dislocations. Patients included in the study, “Getting the Message: The Declining Trend in Opioid Prescribing for Minor Orthopaedic Injuries in Children and Adolescents Over the Past 14 Years,” had minor injuries that were managed without an operation and were sent home the same day. It included a total of 120,002 patients from 42 pediatric hospitals with an age range of 10 to 18 years old. Patients were categorized into four regions—Northeast, Midwest, South, and West—based on the hospital location. A mixed effects logistic regression model was used to account for hospital variation.

The study found the following:

• Over 65,000 patients (54.3%) received at least one dose of opioid during their visit.

• Of those, 73.2% male and 52% were insured through a nongovernment plan.

• Patients 13 to 17 years old were 11% more likely to receive an opioid prescription than younger patients (p<0.001).

• Black patients were 39% less likely to receive an opioid prescription than white patients, which has also been observed in adult populations (p<0.001).

“We were happy to see the overall decline in prescription rates for opioids, especially with such a large data set,” says Divya Talwar, PhD, MPH, BDS, clinical outcomes research manager for the Division of Orthopaedics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. “The results indicate that the efforts to combat earlier exposure to opioids are having success in changing the prescribing habits of physicians in an acute care setting. However, we were definitely surprised that 54% of patients were still getting an opioid for an injury when they shouldn’t, demonstrating we still have work to do to reduce rates further.”

Regional differences were seen in the analysis. As noted, patients in the South and Midwest were more likely to be prescribed opioids compared to those in the Northeast (63% and 30% respectively); however, after adjusting for variation among different hospitals, these differences were found to be insignificant. The research team, which also included Jigar Gandhi, MD, PharmD, of Cooper University Health Care, and Arielle Krakow, BA, of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, note that the data did show that some regions weren’t limiting early exposure to opioids as much as other regions.

Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons