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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.


This article was originally published in Journal of Clinical Medicine, volume 11, issue 1, in 2022.


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