Jan. 23, 2023 – Significantly fewer patients are being prescribed opioids when being discharged from hospital emergency departments, according to a new report.

From 2019-2020, 8.1% of adults who visited the ER were prescribed opioids at discharge, according to a new analysis from the CDC. That’s down from 12.2% during the period of 2017-2018, and down from 21.5% in 2010-2011.

Reducing hospital prescribing of the highly addictive pain medications is a pivotal part of the nation’s strategy to combat the opioid epidemic. The CDC says as many as 1 in 4 people who are prescribed opioids struggle with opioid addiction.

The report, published this month, is part of the CDC’s 2020 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which included data from emergency department visits to 294 hospitals nationwide. The researchers said they reported two-year periods because it allowed them to include more data, making the statistical analysis more definitive. 

The rate of prescribing opioids at discharge also declined. In 2019-2020, they were offered following 36.4 ED visits per 1,000 adults, down from the 2017–2018 rate of 50.5 visits per 1,000 adults.

Most demographic groups in the report saw declines, including men, women, white people and Black people. However, a significant decline in prescribing to Hispanic people was not observed. In previous years, women were significantly more likely to be prescribed opioids at discharge compared to men, but that difference was not as marked in 2019-2020.

The medications, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, are often prescribed after surgery or injury or during cancer treatment. This new report helps public health officials see if their strategy of reducing prescriptions is on track, since previous studies have shown that prescriptions from emergency departments put people at risk for addiction, the researchers wrote.

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