Constipation Prophylaxis Is Rare for Adults Prescribed Outpatient Opioid Therapy From U.S. Emergency Departments

Katherine M Hunold, Samantha A Smith, Timothy F Platts-Mills
Academic Emergency Medicine: Official Journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine 2015, 22 (9): 1118-21

OBJECTIVES: Constipation is a common and potentially serious side effect of oral opioids. Accordingly, most clinical guidelines suggest routine use of laxatives to prevent opioid-induced constipation. The objective was to characterize emergency provider prescribing of laxatives to prevent constipation among adults initiating outpatient opioid treatment.

METHODS: National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) data from 2010 were analyzed. Among visits by individuals aged 18 years and older discharged from the emergency department (ED) with opioid prescriptions, the authors estimated the survey-weighted proportion of visits in which laxatives were also prescribed. A subgroup analysis was conducted for individuals aged 65 years and older, as the potential risks associated with opioid-induced constipation are greater among older individuals. To examine a group expected to be prescribed laxative medication and confirm that NHAMCS captures prescriptions for these medications, the authors estimated the proportion of visits by individuals discharged with prescriptions for laxatives among those who presented with constipation.

RESULTS: Among visits in 2010 by adults aged 18 years and older discharged from the ED with opioid prescriptions, 0.9% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.7% to 1.3%, estimated total n = 191,203 out of 21,075,050) received prescriptions for laxatives. Among the subset of visits by adults aged 65 years and older, 1.0% (95% CI = 0.5% to 2.0%, estimated total n = 18,681 out of 1,904,411) received prescriptions for laxatives. In comparison, among visits by individuals aged 18 years and older with constipation as a reason for visit, 42% received prescriptions for laxatives.

CONCLUSIONS: In this nationally representative sample, laxatives were not routinely prescribed to adults discharged from the ED with prescriptions for opioid pain medications. Routine prescribing of laxatives for ED visits may improve the safety and effectiveness of outpatient opioid pain management.

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