Influence of Opioid Prescription Policy on Overdoses and Related Adverse Effects in a Primary Care Population

Document Type


Publication Date



Internal Medicine, Center for Interdisciplinary Population & Health Research, MaineHealth Institute for Research

Journal Title

Journal of general internal medicine

MeSH Headings

Adult; Analgesics, Opioid (adverse effects); Drug Prescriptions; Humans; Policy; Practice Patterns, Physicians'; Prescriptions; Primary Health Care; Vermont


BACKGROUND: In response to the opioid epidemic, many states have enacted policies limiting opioid prescriptions. There is a paucity of evidence of the impact of opioid prescribing interventions in primary care populations, including whether unintended consequences arise from limiting the availability of prescribed opioids. OBJECTIVE: Our aim was to compare changes in opioid overdose and related adverse effects rate among primary care patients following the implementation of state-level prescribing policies. DESIGN: A cohort of primary care patients within an interrupted time series model. PARTICIPANTS: Electronic medical record data for 62,776 adult (18+ years) primary care patients from a major medical center in Vermont from January 1, 2016, to June 30, 2018. INTERVENTIONS: State-level opioid prescription policy changes limiting dose and duration. MAIN MEASURES: Changes in (1) opioid overdose rate and (2) opioid-related adverse effects rate per 100,000 person-months following the July 1, 2017, prescription policy change. KEY RESULTS: Among primary care patients, there was no change in opioid overdose rate following implementation of the prescribing policy (incidence rate ratio; IRR: 0.64, 95% confidence interval; CI: 0.22-1.88). There was a 78% decrease in the opioid-related adverse effects rate following the prescribing policy (IRR: 0.22, 95%CI: 0.09-0.51). This association was moderated by opioid prescription history, with decreases observed among opioid-naïve patients (IRR: 0.18, 95%CI: 0.06-0.59) and among patients receiving chronic opioid prescriptions (IRR: 0.17, 95%CI: 0.03-0.99), but not among those with intermittent opioid prescriptions (IRR: 0.51, 95%CI: 0.09-2.82). CONCLUSIONS: Limiting prescription opioids did not change the opioid overdose rate among primary care patients, but it reduced the rate of opioid-related adverse effects in the year following the state-level policy change, particularly among patients with chronic opioid prescription history and opioid-naïve patients. Limiting the quantity and duration of opioid prescriptions may have beneficial effects among primary care patients.

First Page


Last Page