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Papers of the Week

Papers: 12 Jan 2019 - 18 Jan 2019

Human Studies

2019 Jan 18

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep



Opioid Prescribing Rates in Nonmetropolitan and Metropolitan Counties Among Primary Care Providers Using an Electronic Health Record System – United States, 2014-2017.


García MC, Heilig CM, Lee SH, Faul M, Guy G, Iademarco MF, Hempstead K, Raymond D, Gray J
MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019 Jan 18; 68(2):25-30.
PMID: 30653483.


Drug overdose is the leading cause of unintentional injury-associated death in the United States. Among 70,237 fatal drug overdoses in 2017, prescription opioids were involved in 17,029 (24.2%) (1). Higher rates of opioid-related deaths have been recorded in nonmetropolitan (rural) areas (2). In 2017, 14 rural counties were among the 15 counties with the highest opioid prescribing rates.* Higher opioid prescribing rates put patients at risk for addiction and overdose (3). Using deidentified data from the Athenahealth electronic health record (EHR) system, opioid prescribing rates among 31,422 primary care providers in the United States were analyzed to evaluate trends from January 2014 to March 2017. This analysis assessed how prescribing practices varied among six urban-rural classification categories of counties, before and after the March 2016 release of CDC's Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain (Guideline) (4). Patients in noncore (the most rural) counties had an 87% higher chance of receiving an opioid prescription compared with persons in large central metropolitan counties during the study period. Across all six county groups, the odds of receiving an opioid prescription decreased significantly after March 2016. This decrease followed a flat trend during the preceding period in micropolitan and large central metropolitan county groups; in contrast, the decrease continued previous downward trends in the other four county groups. Data from EHRs can effectively supplement traditional surveillance methods for monitoring trends in opioid prescribing and other areas of public health importance, with minimal lag time under ideal conditions. As less densely populated areas appear to indicate both substantial progress in decreasing opioid prescribing and ongoing need for reduction, community health care practices and intervention programs must continue to be tailored to community characteristics.