Assessing local California trends in emergency physician opioid prescriptions from 2012 to 2020: Experiences in a large academic health system

Joshua W Elder, Zheng Gu, Jeehyoung Kim, Aimee Moulin, Heejung Bang, Aman K Parikh, Larissa May

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: There has been increased focus nationally on limiting opioid prescriptions. National data demonstrates a decrease in annual opioid prescriptions among emergency medicine physicians. We analyzed data from 2012 to 2020 from a large academic health system in California to understand trends in opioid prescribing patterns for emergency department (ED) discharged patients and assessed the potential impact of two initiatives at limiting local opioid prescriptions. Methods: In 2012–2020, monthly ED visit data was used to evaluate the total number of outpatient opioid prescriptions and percent of ED visits with opioid prescriptions (as primary outcomes). Descriptive statistics, graphic representation, and segmented regression with interrupted times series were used based on two prespecified time points associated with intensive local initiatives directed at limiting opioid prescribing[sbnd]1) comprehensive emergency medicine resident education and 2) electronic health record (EHR)-based intervention. Results: Between March 2012 and July 2020, a total of 41,491 ED discharged patients received an opioid prescription. The three most commonly prescribed drugs were hydrocodone (84.1%), oxycodone (10.8%), and codeine (2.8%). After implementing comprehensive emergency medicine resident education, the total number of opioid prescriptions, the percentage of opioid prescriptions over total ED visit numbers and the total tablet number showed decreasing trends (p's ≤ 0.01), in addition to the natural (pre-intervention) decreasing trends. In contrast, later interventions in the EHR tended to show attenuated decreasing trends. Conclusions: From 2012 to 2020, we found that total opioid prescriptions decreased significantly for discharged ED patients. This trend is seen nationally. However, our specific interventions further heightened this downward trend. Evidence-based legislation, policy changes, and educational initiatives that impact prescribing practices should guide future efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-196
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Emergency medicine
  • Emergency physicians
  • Opioid epidemic
  • Opioid prescriptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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