In 2017, prescription opioids were involved in 36% of opioid-involved overdose deaths in the United States (1). Prescription opioids can be obtained by prescription or through diversion (the channeling of regulated drugs from legal to illegal sources) (2). Among new heroin users, 66%-83% reported that their opioid use began with the misuse of a prescription opioid (3). “Misuse” is generally defined as drugs taken for a purpose other than that directed by the prescribing physician, in greater amounts, more often, or for a longer duration than prescribed (2). Exposure to prescription opioids can be lessened by ensuring recommended prescribing, thereby potentially reducing the risk for misuse, opioid use disorder, and overdose (4). Sex and age groups with high exposure to prescription opioids are not well defined. Using a retail pharmaceutical database from IQVIA,* nationwide trends in opioid prescription fill rates for adult outpatients by age and sex were examined during 2008-2018. Opioid prescription fill rates were disproportionately higher among men and women aged ≥65 years and women of all ages. For reasons not well understood, these disparities persisted over 11 years even as the opioid fill rate declined for each age group and sex. Interventions to improve prescribing practices by following evidence-based guidelines that include weighing the benefits and risks for using prescription opioids for each patient and adopting a multimodal approach to pain management could improve patient safety while ameliorating pain. These efforts might need to consider the unique needs of women and older adults, who have the highest opioid prescription fill rates.
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