Trends in Opioid Prescribing for Adolescents and Young Adults in Ambulatory Care Settings


Adolescents and young adults are at high risk for opioid misuse after exposure from medical treatment. However, the epidemiology of opioid prescribing among outpatient adolescents and young adults remains poorly described. We aimed to characterize opioid prescribing in adolescents and young adults receiving care in emergency departments (EDs) and outpatient clinics.


We analyzed National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey data from 2005 to 2015. We included visits to EDs and outpatient clinics for adolescents (13–17 years old) and young adults (18–22 years old). Rates of opioid prescribing were calculated with 95% confidence intervals (CIs), and linear trends over time were examined with logistic regression models.


Nearly 57 million visits (5.7%; 95% CI 5.4% to 6.0%) by adolescents and young adults were associated with an opioid prescription. The rate of opioid prescribing was 14.9% (95% CI 14.4% to 15.6%) for ED visits and 2.8% (95% CI 2.5% to 3.1%) for outpatient clinic visits. There was a small but significant decrease in the rate of opioid prescriptions among ED visits (odds ratio 0.96; 95% CI 0.95 to 0.98); no change was seen for outpatient clinic visits. Among ED visits, opioid-prescribing rates were highest among adolescents and young adults with dental disorders (59.7% and 57.9%, respectively), followed by adolescents with clavicle (47.0%) and ankle fractures (38.1%).


Rates of opioid prescribing in EDs and outpatient clinics remain high for adolescents and young adults, especially for certain emergency conditions. These findings inform targeted educational campaigns aiming to ensure judicious use of opioids in this high-risk population.

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