Initial Patterns of Prescription Opioid Supply and Risk of Mortality Among Insured Adults in the United States

Hilary A. Aroke, University of Rhode Island
Ashley L. Buchanan
Jeffrey Bratberg
Joseph W. Hogan
Josiah D. Rich
Xuerong Wen
Stephen J. Kogut


OBJECTIVE: To examine the association between initial patterns of prescription opioid supply (POS) and risk of all-cause mortality among an insured opioid-naïve patient population in the United States (US). METHODS: This retrospective observational cohort study used de-identified, administrative health care claims data from a large national insurer (Optum Clinformatics Data Mart) from 2010 to 2015. Participants included insured, cancer-free adults prescribed opioid analgesics. Prescription opioids received during the first 6 months of therapy were used to categorize initial patterns of POS as daily or nondaily. Cox regression was used to estimate the association of initial patterns of POS with all-cause mortality within one year of follow-up, adjusting for baseline covariates to control for confounding. RESULTS: A total of 4,054,417 patients were included, of which 2.75% had incident daily POS; 54.8% were female; median age was 50 years; mean Charlson comorbidity index (CCI) was 0.21 (standard deviation = 0.77); and mean daily morphine milligram equivalent was 34.61 (95% confidence intervals: 34.59, 34.63). There were 2068 more deaths per 100,000 person-years among patients who were prescribed opioids daily than nondaily. After adjusting for baseline covariates, the hazard of all-cause mortality among patients with incident daily POS was nearly twice that among those prescribed nondaily (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.94; 95% confidence intervals: 1.84, 2.04). CONCLUSIONS: Among insured adult patients with noncancer pain, incident chronic POS was associated with a significantly increased risk of all-cause mortality over at most 1 year of follow-up. Because these results may be susceptible to bias, more research is needed to establish causality.