State Medical Board Policy and Opioid Prescribing: A Controlled Interrupted Time Series

Published:December 09, 2020DOI:


      In March 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued opioid prescribing guidelines for chronic noncancer pain. In response, in April 2016, the North Carolina Medical Board launched the Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative, an investigative program intended to limit the overprescribing of opioids. This study focuses on the association of the Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative with immediate and sustained changes in opioid prescribing among all patients who received opioid and opioid discontinuation and tapering among patients who received high-dose (>90 milligrams of morphine equivalents), long-term (>90 days) opioid therapy.


      Controlled and single interrupted time series analysis of opioid prescribing outcomes before and after the implementation of Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative was conducted using deidentified data from the North Carolina Controlled Substances Reporting System from January 2010 through March 2017. Analysis was conducted in 2019–2020.


      In an average study month, 513,717 patients, including patients who received 47,842 high-dose, long-term opioid therapy, received 660,912 opioid prescriptions at 1.3 prescriptions per patient. There was a 0.52% absolute decline (95% CI= −0.87, −0.19) in patients receiving opioid prescriptions in the month after Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative implementation. Abrupt discontinuation, rapid tapering, and gradual tapering of opioids among patients who received high-dose, long-term opioid therapy increased by 1% (95% CI= −0.22, 2.23), 2.2% (95% CI=0.91, 3.47), and 1.3% (95% CI=0.96, 1.57), respectively, in the month after Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative implementation.


      Although Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative implementation was associated with an immediate decline in overall opioid prescribing, it was also associated with an unintended immediate increase in discontinuations and rapid tapering among patients who received high-dose, long-term opioid therapy. Better policy communication and prescriber education regarding opioid tapering best practices may help mitigate unintended consequences of statewide policies.
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