Tracking opioid prescribing metrics in Washington state (2012-2017): differences by county-level urban-rural and economic distress classifications

Publication type
Journal article
Sears JM, Edmonds AT, Fulton-Kehoe D
Date published
2020 Oct 01
Journal of Rural Health
Open Access?

PURPOSE: High-risk opioid prescribing is a critical driver of prescription opioid-related morbidity and mortality. This study explored opioid prescribing patterns across urban-rural and economic distress classifications. Secondarily, this study explored the urban-rural distribution of relevant health services, economic factors, and population characteristics. METHODS: County-level opioid prescribing metrics were based on quarterly Washington State Prescription Monitoring Program data (2012-2017). Counties were classified using the 2013 National Center for Health Statistics Urban-Rural Classification Scheme for Counties, and Washington State unemployment-based distressed areas. County-level measures from Area Health Resources Files were used to describe the urban-rural continuum. FINDINGS: Persistent economic distress was associated with higher-risk opioid prescribing. The large central metropolitan category had lower-risk opioid prescribing metrics than the other 5 urban-rural categories, which were similar to each other and not ordered by degree of rurality. High-risk prescribing declined over time, without notable trend divergence by either urban-rural or economic distress classifications. CONCLUSIONS: The most striking urban-rural differences in opioid prescribing metrics were between large central metropolitan and all other categories; thus, we recommend caution when collapsing urban-rural categories for analysis. Further research is needed regarding geographic and economic patterning of opioid prescribing practices, as well as the dissemination of guidelines and best practices across the urban-rural continuum. Finally, the multiple intertwined burdens faced by rural communities-higher-risk prescribing practices, higher opioid morbidity and mortality rates, and fewer resources for primary care, mental health care, alternative pain treatment, and opioid use disorder treatment-must be addressed as an urgent public health priority