Association of initial opioid prescription duration and an opioid refill by pain diagnosis: Evidence from outpatient settings in ten US health systems

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Preventive medicine


OBJECTIVE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2022 Clinical Practice Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Pain cautioned that inflexible opioid prescription duration limits may harm patients. Information about the relationship between initial opioid prescription duration and a subsequent refill could inform prescribing policies and practices to optimize patient outcomes. We assessed the association between initial opioid duration and an opioid refill prescription.

METHODS: We conducted a retrospective cohort study of adults ≥19 years of age in 10 US health systems between 2013 and 2018 from outpatient care with a diagnosis for back pain without radiculopathy, back pain with radiculopathy, neck pain, joint pain, tendonitis/bursitis, mild musculoskeletal pain, severe musculoskeletal pain, urinary calculus, or headache. Generalized additive models were used to estimate the association between opioid days' supply and a refill prescription.

RESULTS: Overall, 220,797 patients were prescribed opioid analgesics upon an outpatient visit for pain. Nearly a quarter (23.5%) of the cohort received an opioid refill prescription during follow-up. The likelihood of a refill generally increased with initial duration for most pain diagnoses. About 1 to 3 fewer patients would receive a refill within 3 months for every 100 patients initially prescribed 3 vs. 7 days of opioids for most pain diagnoses. The lowest likelihood of refill was for a 1-day supply for all pain diagnoses, except for severe musculoskeletal pain (9 days' supply) and headache (3-4 days' supply).

CONCLUSIONS: Long-term prescription opioid use increased modestly with initial opioid prescription duration for most but not all pain diagnoses examined.

Medical Subject Headings

Adult; Humans; Analgesics, Opioid; Retrospective Studies; Outpatients; Musculoskeletal Pain; Radiculopathy; Prescriptions; Headache; Practice Patterns, Physicians'; Back Pain

PubMed ID




First Page


Last Page