Neck pain is a leading cause of years lived with disability and is often managed with opioid medications in primary care settings, though this is contraindicated by national guidelines. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of opioid prescription for neck pain at a primary care visit and to analyze the geographic variation and trends in opioid prescriptions between 2011 and 2017.
Using a prescription drug claims database, we identified 591,961 adult patients who presented for neck pain in primary care settings between 2011 and 2017. Patients who had outpatient specialty visits within 1 year before presentation, a concomitant diagnosis of a non-musculoskeletal cause of neck pain, or preexisting chronic opioid use were excluded.
The mean age of the patients was 45 ± 12 years, and 64% were female. Fifteen percent of patients were prescribed opioids within 30 days of their encounter. Eleven percent of patients were prescribed moderate- to high-dose opioids (>20 morphine milligram equivalents). From 2011-2017, the proportion of both overall opioid prescriptions and moderate- to high-dose prescriptions given to first time presenters to an outpatient clinic for neck pain was highest in Mississippi (20%) and lowest in New Mexico (6%) (P < 0.001). In 2017, the proportion of both overall opioid prescriptions and moderate- to high-dose prescriptions was highest in the Midwest (10.4%) and lowest in the Northeast (4.9%). The proportion of patients with filled opioid prescriptions declined between 2011 (19%) and 2017 (13%) (P < 0.001), and the proportion of patients with moderate- to high-dose prescriptions declined from 2011 (13%) to 2017 (8%) (P < 0.001). first-time presenters of neck pain to an outpatient clinic.
Opioid medication use for neck pain in the primary care setting is significant. Although opioid prescriptions are declining, there remains a need for further standardization in prescription practices.

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