The Contribution of the Emergency Department To Opioid Pain Reliever Misuse And Diversion: A Critical Review

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Prescription opioid pain reliever (OPR) misuse and diversion is an important and growing public health problem in the United States that is responsible for significant morbidity and mortality. Emergency physicians are among the top prescribers of OPRs, yet the relative contribution of emergency department (ED) OPR prescriptions to the overall opioid abuse epidemic remains unclear. This study critically reviews seven peer-reviewed studies that specifically identified the ED as a source of OPRs. Of the OPRs prescribed in the ED, approximately 10% are associated with indicators of inappropriate prescribing, and approximately 42% may ultimately be misused; of the OPRs that are diverted, approximately 10% originate from an ED prescription. Among patients who suffer an OPR-related death, approximately 1.8% of the OPR pills given to the decedents will have come from the ED. In addition to the need for more research, the existing literature suggests an urgent need for interventions in the ED to reduce OPR misuse and diversion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPain Practice
StateAccepted/In press - 2017



  • Opioid analgesics
  • Opioid-related disorders
  • Self medication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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