Prescription Opioid Utilization Patterns, and Associated Outcomes, among Privately-Insured Patients Prescribed Opioids to Manage Pain Associated with Osteoarthritis

Current Medical Research and Opinion, 2023


To describe utilization patterns, negative clinical outcomes and economic burden of patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip and/or knee who received a prescription for tramadol or non-tramadol opioids vs. non-opioid drugs.


Optum Healthcare Solutions, Inc. commercial claims data were used (1/2012--3/2017). Adults with ≥2 diagnoses of OA of the hip and/or knee, and ≥30 days supply of pain medications were identified during the three-year period from the date of first prescription (index date) after the first OA diagnosis. Drug utilization statistics in the follow-up period were summarized by initial treatment (i.e. tramadol, non-tramadol opioids, non-opioid drugs). Opioid initiators were matched to those initiated on non-opioid treatments using a propensity score model accounting for baseline characteristics. Matched pairs analysis compared outcomes for these cohorts.


Of 62,715 total patients, 15,270 (24.3%) initiated treatment with opioids, including 3,513 (5.6%) on tramadol and 11,757 (18.7%) on non-tramadol opioids. Opioid initiators had more comorbidities, higher baseline healthcare costs, and were more likely to have OA of the hip. Among non-opioid initiators, 27.5% switched to tramadol and 63% switched to non-tramadol opioids. Among tramadol initiators, 71% switched to non-tramadol opioids. Patients initiated on opioids had 20.4% (p < .01) higher all-cause healthcare costs and higher percentages experiencing multiple negative clinical outcomes (all p < .01) compared to matched controls.


Most patients with OA of the hip and/or knee either initiate on or switch to opioids for long-term management of OA-related pain despite known risks. This highlights the need for new treatments that delay or prevent use of opioids.

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Schepman P, Rice JB, Beck CG, White A, Robinson RL, Thakkar S, Fernan C, Emir B, Silverman S