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Changes in opioid prescribing in veterans with headache during the COVID-19 pandemic: A regression discontinuity in time analysis.

Wang K, Fenton BT, Skanderson M, Black AC, Becker WC, Seng EK, Anthony SE, Guirguis AB, Altalib HH, Kimber A, Lorenze N, Scholten JD, Graham GD, Sandbrink F, Sico JJ. Changes in opioid prescribing in veterans with headache during the COVID-19 pandemic: A regression discontinuity in time analysis. Headache. 2023 Oct 1; 63(9):1295-1303.

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OBJECTIVE: To determine changes in opioid prescribing among veterans with headaches during the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic by comparing the stay-at-home phase (March 15 to May 30, 2020) and the reopening phase (May 31 to December 31, 2020). BACKGROUND: Opioid prescribing for chronic pain has declined substantially since 2016; however, changes in opioid prescribing during the COVID-19 pandemic among veterans with headaches remain unknown. METHODS: This retrospective cohort study utilized regression discontinuity in time and difference-in-differences design to analyze veterans aged = 18?years with a previous diagnosis of headache disorders and an outpatient visit to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) during the study period. We measured the weekly number of opioid prescriptions, the number of days supplied, the daily dose in morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs), and the number of prescriptions with = 50 morphine equivalent daily doses (MEDD). RESULTS: A total of 81,376 veterans were analyzed with 589,950 opioid prescriptions. The mean (SD) age was 51.6?(13.5)?years, 57,242 (70.3%) were male, and 53,464 (65.7%) were White. During the pre-pandemic period, 323.6 opioid prescriptions (interquartile range 292.1-325.8) were dispensed weekly, with an median (IQR) of 24.1?(24.0-24.4)?days supplied and 31.8?(31.2-32.5)?MMEs. Transition to stay-at-home was associated with a 7.7% decrease in the number of prescriptions (incidence rate ratio [IRR] 1.077, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.866-0.984) and a 9.8% increase in days supplied (IRR 1.098, 95% CI 1.078-1.119). Similar trends were observed during the reopening period. Subgroup analysis among veterans on long-term opioid therapy also revealed 1.7% and 1.4% increases in days supplied during the stay-at-home (IRR 1.017, 95% CI 1.009-1.025) and reopening phase (IRR 1.014, 95% CI 1.007-1.021); however, changes in the total number of prescriptions, MME/day, or the number of prescriptions > 50?MEDD were insignificant. CONCLUSION: Prescription opioid access was maintained for veterans within VHA during the pandemic. The de-escalation of opioid prescribing observed prior to the pandemic was not seen in our study.

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