Outpatient Prescribing of Antibiotics and Opioids by Veterans Health Administration Providers, 2015–2017


      Antibiotics and opioids are targeted by public health and stewardship communities for reductions in prescribing across the country. This study evaluates trends and factors associated with outpatient prescribing by dental and medical providers in a large integrated health system.


      This was a cross-sectional study of national dental and medical outpatient visits from Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in 2015–2017; analyzed in 2019–2020. Antibiotic and opioid prescribing rates were assessed by provider and facility characteristics. Multivariable Poisson regression adjusted for repeated measures by the provider was used to assess the independent association between facility and provider characteristics and rate of prescribing.


      Over the study period, 4,625,840 antibiotic and 10,380,809 opioid prescriptions were identified for 115,625,890 visits. Physicians prescribed most antibiotics (67%). Dentists prescribed 6% of the antibiotics but had the highest per-visit antibiotic prescribing rate compared to medical providers (6.75 vs 3.90 prescriptions per 100 visits, p<0.0001), which was largely driven by dental specialists. By contrast, dentists had lower opioid prescribing than medical providers (3.02 vs 9.20 prescriptions per 100 visits, p<0.0001). Overall, antibiotic and opioid prescribing decreased over time, with opioids having the greatest decreases (−28.0%). In multivariable analyses, U.S. geographic region, rurality, and complexity were associated with prescribing for both drug classes. Opioid and antibiotic prescribing were positively correlated.


      Although antibiotic and opioid prescribing has decreased, there are still important target areas for improvement. Interventions need to be tailored to community characteristics such as rurality and provider type.
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