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Ann Emerg Med. 2013 Oct;62(4):281-9. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2013.05.025. Epub 2013 Jul 9.

Clinician impression versus prescription drug monitoring program criteria in the assessment of drug-seeking behavior in the emergency department.

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Tufts Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA. Electronic address:



We compare emergency provider impression of drug-seeking behavior with objective criteria from a state prescription drug monitoring program, assess change in opioid pain reliever prescribing after prescription drug monitoring program review, and examine clinical factors associated with suspected drug-seeking behavior.


This was a prospective observational study of emergency providers assessing a convenience sample of patients aged 18 to 64 years who presented to either of 2 academic medical centers with chief complaint of back pain, dental pain, or headache. Drug-seeking behavior was objectively defined as present when a patient had greater than or equal to 4 opioid prescriptions by greater than or equal to 4 providers in the 12 months before emergency department evaluation. Emergency providers completed data forms recording their impression of the likelihood of drug-seeking behavior, patient characteristics, and plan for prescribing pre- and post-prescription drug monitoring program review. Descriptive statistics were generated. We calculated agreement between emergency provider impression of drug-seeking behavior and prescription drug monitoring program definition, and sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive value of emergency provider impression, using prescription drug monitoring program criteria as the criterion standard. A multivariate logistic regression analysis was conducted to determine clinical factors associated with drug-seeking behavior.


Thirty-eight emergency providers with prescription drug monitoring program access participated. There were 544 patient visits entered into the study from June 2011 to January 2013. There was fair agreement between emergency provider impression of drug-seeking behavior and prescription drug monitoring program (κ=0.30). Emergency providers had sensitivity 63.2% (95% confidence interval [CI] 54.8% to 71.7%), specificity 72.7% (95% CI 68.4% to 77.0%), and positive predictive value 41.2% (95% CI 34.4% to 48.2%) for identifying drug-seeking behavior. After exposure to prescription drug monitoring program data, emergency providers changed plans to prescribe opioids at discharge in 9.5% of cases (95% CI 7.3% to 12.2%), with 6.5% of patients (n=35) receiving opioids not previously planned and 3.0% (n=16) no longer receiving opioids. Predictors for drug-seeking behavior by prescription drug monitoring program criteria were patient requests opioid medications by name (odds ratio [OR] 1.91; 95% CI 1.13 to 3.23), multiple visits for same complaint (OR 2.5; 95% CI 1.49 to 4.18), suspicious history (OR 1.88; 95% CI 1.1 to 3.19), symptoms out of proportion to examination (OR 1.83; 95% CI 1.1 to 3.03), and hospital site (OR 3.1; 95% CI 1.76 to 5.44).


Emergency providers had fair agreement with objective criteria from the prescription drug monitoring program in suspecting drug-seeking behavior. Program review changed management plans in a small number of cases. Multiple clinical factors were predictive of drug-seeking behavior.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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