Opioids Dispensed in the U.S. by Prescribing Specialty, 2012–2017

Published:February 10, 2022DOI:


      Increases in opioid prescribing contributed to the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Subsequent efforts to promote safer use of opioids for treating pain included augmenting prescription drug monitoring programs and prescribing guidelines. The purpose of this study is to characterize the distribution of opioids dispensed in the U.S. by specialty.


      Data from the IQVIA National Prescription Audit were analyzed (in 2019). Prescriptions were standardized to morphine milligram equivalents using the 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conversion file. The annual number of prescriptions and total dose (morphine milligram equivalents) of opioids dispensed, overall and by specialty (provider type or physician specialty), were calculated for 2012–2017.


      The number of prescriptions for opioids dispensed declined by 26.6% overall from 2012 to 2017. However, the number of prescriptions dispensed increased for pain medicine (8.8%) and advanced practice providers (nurse practitioners: 34.8%, physician assistants: 5.4%). Similarly, total morphine milligram equivalents for opioids dispensed declined by 28.6% from 2012 to 2017. Despite an increase in the number of prescriptions, total morphine milligram equivalents of opioids dispensed declined by nearly 20% in pain medicine. Higher total morphine milligram equivalents of dispensed opioids were observed in 2017 than in 2012 for advanced practice providers (nurse practitioners: 19.1%, physician assistants: 1.8%), although a decline in morphine milligram equivalents was observed from 2016 to 2017.


      During a period in which prescribing interventions were expanded, opioid prescribing declined overall, although not uniformly by specialty.
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