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Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2018 May;27(5):513-519. doi: 10.1002/pds.4376. Epub 2017 Dec 21.

Decline in opioid prescribing after federal rescheduling of hydrocodone products.

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Department of Internal Medicine and Sealy Center on Aging, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, 77555-0177, USA.
Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, 77555-1148, USA.
Institute for Translational Science, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, 77555-0342, USA.
Office of Biostatistics, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, 77555-1148, USA.



To examine differences in opioid prescribing by patient characteristics and variation in hydrocodone combination product (HCP) prescribing attributed to states, before and after the 2014 Drug Enforcement Administration's reclassification of HCP from schedule III to the more restrictive schedule II.


We used 2013 to 2015 data for 9 202 958 patients aged 18 to 64 from a large nationally representative commercial health insurance program to assess the temporal trends in the monthly rate of opioid prescribing.


HCP prescribing decreased by 26% from June 2013 to June 2015; the rate of prescriptions for any opioid decreased by 11%. Prescribing of non-hydrocodone schedule III opioids increased slightly while prescribing of non-hydrocodone schedule II opioids and tramadol was stable. Absolute decreases in HCP prescribing rates were larger in patients being treated for cancer (-2.26% vs -0.7% for non-cancer patients, P < 0.0001) and in those with high comorbidities (-2.13% vs -0.55% for those with no comorbidity, P < 0.0001). Differences in the absolute and relative changes in HCP prescribing rates among states were large; for example, a relative decrease of 46.7% in Texas and a 12.7% increase in South Dakota. The variation in HCP prescribing attributable to the state of residence increased from 6.6% in 2013 to 8.7% in 2015.


The 2014 federal policy was associated with a decrease in rates of HCP and total opioid prescribing. The large decrease in the rates of HCP prescribing for patients with actively treated cancer may represent an unintended consequence.


laws; opioids; pharmacoepidemiology; public policy

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