The United States is currently facing an epidemic of opioid-related deaths, increasingly associated with fentanyl use. Our objective was to characterize rates of fentanyl, general opioid and non-opioid pain medication prescription at a national level in both outpatient and emergency department settings. We used a retrospective cross-sectional research design using data from the 2006-2015 National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys. Between 2006-2015, 66,987 (17.4%) of 390,538 office-based outpatient visits (nationally-representative of 961 million visits) and 134,953 (45.0%) of 305,570 ED visits (nationally-representative of 130 million visits) listed a pain medication prescription. The proportion of all outpatient visits in which any pain medication was prescribed increased from 15.0% in 2006-2007 to 20.5% in 2014-2015 (p < 0.001). The proportion of all outpatient visits in which any fentanyl product was prescribed remained stable at 0.3% and 0.4% (p = 0.32), but increased among ED visits from 0.5% to 1.1% (p = 0.006). In contrast, the proportion of all outpatient visits in which any opioid product was prescribed increased from 6.6% to 9.7% (p < 0.001), but remained relatively stable among ED visits from 26.2% to 24.4% (p = 0.07). Non-opioid pain medication prescription increased in both settings, from 9.7% to 13.7% (p < 0.001) in the outpatient setting and from 25.6% to 27.6% (p = 0.02) in the ED setting between 2006-2007 and 2014-2015, respectively. To address current opioid crisis, both clinical and public health interventions are needed, such as targeted education outreach on evidence-based opioid prescribing and non-opioid alternatives.
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