Association of age and opioid use for adolescents and young adults in community emergency departments

Published:October 16, 2018DOI:



      Adolescents and young adults are at high risk for opioid misuse and abuse. The emergency department (ED) plays a key role in treatment of acute and chronic pain and is a primary place that this patient population is exposed to prescription opioids. We evaluate the effect of patient age on use of opioids for adolescents and young adults in community EDs.


      Retrospective cohort study of adolescent and young adult encounters in 14 community EDs from 2013 to 2014. We evaluate the percent of ED encounters with parenteral and/or oral opioids administered, morphine milligram equivalents per ED patient encounter, and percent of patient encounters discharged with an opioid prescription. Age was the main exposure. The association between outcomes and age was examined using bivariate and multivariate logistic regression adjusting for measurable confounders.


      There were 259,632 adolescent and young adult encounters in our sample, average age 17.6 years, with 15.8% given opioids. Increasing patient age was associated with a significant increase in the percent of encounters with opioids given (AOR, 1.11; 95% CI 1.10–1.11), morphine milligram equivalents administered (β 0.38; 95% CI 0.33–0.43 for parenteral and β 0.26; 95% CI 0.23–0.28 for oral), and percent of patients receiving outpatient prescriptions (AOR, 1.14; 95% CI 1.13–1.14). Significant variability also existed between medical centers (AOR, 2.02; 95% CI 1.86–2.20).


      For adolescent and young adult patients in the ED, there is a significant association between opioid prescribing and increasing age. This describes an opportunity to reduce opioid use in older adolescents and young adults.


      ED (emergency department), GEE (generalized estimating equations), ICD-9 (International Classification of Disease, 9th revision), KPSC (Kaiser Permanente Southern California), MME (morphine milligram equivalents)


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