Journal of Clinical Medicine; Michelle A. Fortier, Michael T. Phan, Daniel M. Tomaszewski, Cody Arbuckle, Sun Yang, Brooke Jenkins, Theodore Heyming, Erik Linstead, Candice Donaldson, Zeev Kain; DOI: 10.3390/jcm11010038


Objective: To evaluate trends in national emergency department (ED) adolescent opioid use in relation to reported pain scores.

Methods: A retrospective, cross-sectional analysis on National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) data was conducted on ED visits involving patients aged 11-21 from 2008-2017. Crude observational counts were extrapolated to weighted estimates matching total population counts. Multivariate models were used to evaluate the role of a pain score in the reported use of opioids. Anchors for pain scores were 0 (no pain) and 10 (worst pain imaginable).

Results: 31,355 observations were captured, which were extrapolated by the NHAMCS to represent 162,515,943 visits nationwide. Overall, patients with a score of 10 were 1.35 times more likely to receive an opioid than patients scoring a 9, 41.7% (CI95 39.7-43.8%) and 31.0% (CI95 28.8-33.3%), respectively. Opioid use was significantly different between traditional pain score cutoffs of mild (1-3) and moderate pain (4-6), where scores of 4 were 1.76 times more likely to receive an opioid than scores of 3, 15.5% (CI95 13.7-17.3%) and 8.8% (CI95 7.1-10.6%), respectively. Scores of 7 were 1.33 times more likely to receive opioids than scores of 6, 24.7% (CI95 23.0-26.3%) and 18.5% (CI95 16.9-20.0%), respectively. Fractures had the highest likelihood of receiving an opioid, as 49.2% of adolescents with a fracture received an opioid (CI95 46.4-51.9%). Within this subgroup, only adolescents reporting a fracture pain score of 10 had significantly higher opioid use than adjacent pain scores, where fracture patients scoring a 10 were 1.4 times more likely to use opioids than those scoring 9, 82.2% (CI95 76.1-88.4%) and 59.8% (CI95 49.0-70.5%), respectively.

Conclusions: While some guidelines in the adult population have revised cut-offs and groupings of the traditional tiers on a 0-10 point pain scale, the adolescent population may also require further examination to potentially warrant a similar adjustment.