Prescription opioids: regional variation and socioeconomic status – evidence from primary care in England

Teng-Chou Chen, Li-Chia Chen, Miriam Kerry, Roger D Knaggs

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Background This study aimed to quantify dispensed opioid prescriptions among primary care practices throughout England and investigate its association with socioeconomic status (SES). Methods This cross-sectional study used publicly available data in 2015, including practice-level dispensing data and characteristics of registrants from the United Kingdom (UK) National Health Service Digital, and Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) data from Department of Communities and Local Government. Practices in England which had opioid prescriptions that could be assigned a defined daily dose (DDD) in the claim-based dispensing database were included. The total amount of dispensed opioid prescriptions (DDD/1000 registrants/day) was calculated for each practice. The association between dispensed opioid prescriptions and IMD was analyzed by multi-level regression and adjusted for registrants’ characteristics and the clustered effect of Clinical Commissioning Groups. Subgroup analysis was conducted for practices in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle. Results Of the 7856 included practices in England, the median and interquartile range (IQR) of prescription opioids dispensed was 36.9 (IQR: 23.1, 52.5) DDD/1000 registrants/day. The median opioid utilization (DDD/1000 registrants/day) amongst practices varied between Manchester (53.1; IQR: 36.8, 71.4), Newcastle (48.9; IQR: 38.8, 60.1), Birmingham (35.3; IQR: 23.1, 49.4) and London (13.9; IQR: 8.1, 18.8). Lower SES, increased prevalence of patients aged more than 65 years, female gender, smoking, obesity and depression were significantly associated with increased dispensed opioid prescriptions. For every decrease in IMD decile (lower SES), there was a significant increase of opioid utilization by 1.0 (95% confidence interval: 0.89, 1.2, P<0.001) DDD/1000 registrants/day. Conclusion There was a variation in prescription opioids dispensed among practices from Northern and Eastern England to Southern England. A significant association between increased opioid prescriptions and greater deprivation at a population level was observed. Further longitudinal
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-94
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Early online date12 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • Socioeconomic status
  • dispensed opioid prescriptions
  • regional variation
  • spatial analysis
  • general practice
  • England


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