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Rheumatologist prescribing rates predict chronic opioid use in RA patients



– A physician’s baseline opioid prescribing rate strongly predicts future chronic opioid use in rheumatoid arthritis patients, an analysis of data from the Consortium of Rheumatology Researchers of North America (Corrona) Rheumatoid Arthritis Registry suggests.

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The baseline 12-month opioid prescribing rate of 148 physicians in the initial cohort varied widely from 0% to 70% (median, 27%), and among 9,337 patients in the registry beyond the baseline 12 months, physician opioid prescribing rates during the baseline period were significantly associated with risk for chronic opioid use, Yvonne C. Lee, MD, reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology. She and her colleagues defined chronic opioid use as any opioid use during at least two consecutive study visits.

“It is important to understand the relative contributions of patient vs. physician characteristics on chronic opioid use,” said Dr. Lee of Northwestern University, Chicago. She that the goals of the current study were to identify the extent to which rheumatologists in the United States varied in baseline opioid prescribing rates and to determine the implications of baseline prescribing rates with respect to future chronic opioid use.

Compared with the lowest quartile of baseline opioid prescribing (rate of 18% or less), the second, third, and fourth quartiles of prescribing were associated with increasing odds of chronic opioid use (odds ratios of 1.16, 1.89, and 2.01 for the quartiles, respectively) during the study period, she said.

The researchers saw similar relationships when they used a stricter definition of opioid use and when they extended the cutoff between the baseline and study periods to 18 months. The relationships persisted after adjusting for numerous patient characteristics, such as age, sex, race, insurance status, RA duration, and treatments used, she said.

Subgroup analyses were also conducted to examine heterogeneity across clinical characteristics, including Clinical Disease Activity Index score (10 or less vs. greater than 10), pain intensity (scores of 40 or less, greater than 40 to 60, and greater than 60 out of 100), and use vs. nonuse of antidepressant medication. The relationships between physician baseline prescribing and chronic opioid use were similar across subgroups, she noted.

The findings help to characterize the role of rheumatologists’ prescribing rates in the ongoing opioid crisis even though the conclusions that can be reached are limited by the fact that some patients may receive opioid prescriptions from physicians outside the registry, by a lack of data on specific opioid types and doses, and by a lack of detailed information about physician characteristics, Dr. Lee said.

Physicians were included in the analysis only if they had contributed at least 10 RA patients to the registry within their first year of participation, and patients were included if they were patients of those physicians, if they had at least 12 months of follow-up data available, and if they were not prevalent opioid users at study entry.

A long-term goal is to target interventions to appropriate subgroups, she said, noting that 21%-29% of patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and more than 33,000 Americans die of opioid overdoses each year.

“Implications [of the findings] are that, in addition to targeting patients, we may also really want to consider interventions that target high-intensity prescribers. This may be useful for helping to decrease chronic opioid use in patients,” she concluded.

Dr. Lee has an investigator-initiated grant from Pfizer and owns stock in Express Scripts.

SOURCE: Lee Y et al. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2018;70(Suppl 10), Abstract 1917

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