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J Adolesc Health. 2014 Jul;55(1):128-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.12.014. Epub 2014 Feb 25.

Opioid use among adolescent patients treated for headache.

Author information

  • 1HealthCore, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware. Electronic address:
  • 2American Academy of Pediatrics, Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
  • 3American Academy of Family Physicians, Leawood, Kansas.
  • 4American Academy of Neurology, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  • 5HealthCore, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware.
  • 6WellPoint, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana.



To determine the pervasiveness of opioid prescribing for adolescents with headache and patient and provider characteristics associated with likelihood of opioid prescribing.


This observational cohort analysis used commercial medical and pharmacy claims between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2008. Included were adolescents (13-17 years of age) with newly diagnosed headache, ≥2 distinct claims for headache, and ≥12 months health plan eligibility preindex and postindex. Adolescents with a trauma diagnosis at any point were excluded. The primary outcome was current practice patterns, measured by a number of opioid claims, a percentage of patients prescribed opioids, a number of opioid prescriptions per year, a length of opioid therapy, and a frequency of specific comorbidities. A secondary outcome characterized providers and practice settings, comparing patients who received opioids with those who did not.


Of 8,373 adolescents with headache, 46% (3,859 patients) received an opioid prescription. Nearly half (48%) received one opioid prescription during follow-up; 29% received ≥3 opioid prescriptions. Of those with opioid prescriptions, 25% (977 patients) had a migraine diagnosis at index date. Among adolescents who received opioids, 28% (1,076 adolescents) had an emergency department (ED) visit for headache during follow-up versus 14% (608 adolescents) who did not receive opioids (p < .01). ED visits with a headache diagnosis during follow-up were strongly correlated with opioid use after adjusting for other covariates (odds ratio, 2.02; 95% confidence interval, 1.79-2.29). Despite the treatment guidelines recommending against their use, a large proportion of adolescents with headache were prescribed opioids. ED visits were strongly correlated with opioid prescriptions.

Copyright © 2014 Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Administrative claims; Adolescent headache; Computed tomography scan; Headache diagnosis; Pediatric headache; Recurrent headache

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