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Analysis of pediatric opioid analgesics prescribed in a large pediatric hospital over a 5-year period

Soheil Saadat, MD, MPH, PhD, Nikhil Shah, BS, Shivam Patel, BS, Rishi Bhargava, MD, Campbell Belisle Haley, MD, Bharath Chakravarthy, MD, MPH


Objective: In this study, we aim to look at opioid prescription patterns in a large pediatric hospital with an emphasis on opioid potency as measured by morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) to understand physician response to safe prescribing regulations and new research on opioid use in pediatrics.

Design: Analgesic prescriptions in a pediatric hospital in California from 2012 to 2016 were included. Prescriptions that contained any type of opioid medication were analyzed total MME in each prescription, and medication prescribed. The MME for each opioid was assigned to the prescription and presented as mean ± standard deviation (SD). Statistical analysis was performed by using IBM SPSS statistics version 25.

Setting: A pediatric hospital in California.

Participants: All pediatric patients receiving analgesic prescriptions from a single institution between 2012 and 2016.

Main outcome measure: Relative frequency of different opioid medications prescribed.

Results: Of the 14,194 total opioid prescriptions, hydrocodone (11,247), codeine (2,117), and tramadol (411) were most prescribed. The relative frequency of opioid prescription decreased from 2012 to 2016 due to the decreased prescription of hydrocodone and codeine. Despite the decreased relative frequency of opioid prescription, the mean MME of prescribed opioids increased.

Conclusion: The study demonstrated that recent efforts to limit pediatric exposure to opioids have been effective. However, recommendations limiting the use of weak opioids (codeine and tramadol) have caused an increase in average prescribed opioid potency. This may be a contributing factor to the overall increase in opioid-related pediatric hospitalizations. Revision of prescription guidelines for hydrocodone (MME = 1) may protect pediatric patients from unnecessary opioid exposure.



opioids, prescriptions, pediatrics, MME, hydrocodone, codeine, tramadol

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