Oxycodone prescribing in the emergency department during the opioid crisis

Pourya Pouryahya, William Birkett, Alastair D. McR Meyer, Stephen Louey, Miriam Belhadfa, Sapphire Ferdousi, Kimberly Imperial, Phi Nguyen, Amber Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Objective: Misuse of prescription opioids is a significant public health issue in Australia. There has been a rapid rise in prescription opioid use, with an associated increase in overdose and death. The over-prescribing of oral opioids, especially oxycodone, in the ED has been identified as a contributor to this problem overseas. It is unclear if similar practice occurs in the Australian ED. The primary aim of our study was to identify the incidence of oral oxycodone administration to patients within the ED. The secondary outcome was to identify the incidence of oxycodone prescribed to patients on discharge from the ED into the community. Methods: Our study was designed as an observational, retrospective data analysis of the incidence of oxycodone prescribed within the three EDs of a large Australian public health service. All immediate-release (IR) and slow-release (SR) oral oxycodone prescribed over a 4-year period (2015–2018) was included. Results: There were 890 557 presentations to the three EDs during the period, which resulted in 288 242 episodes of oxycodone administration within department, equivalent to 324 administrations per 1000 presentations. There were 39 381 prescriptions for oxycodone provided on discharge, resulting in an incidence of 44 prescriptions per 1000 discharged. The most frequently prescribed opioid medication in the ED was oxycodone IR 5 mg, 78.6% of discharge prescriptions generated provided a maximum quantity (20 for IR formulation or 28 for SR) of tablets allowable under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Conclusions: There is a higher incidence of oxycodone prescribing in the Australian ED than previously recognised. An overuse of oxycodone may be contributing to adverse patient outcomes and a public health crisis. Hospitals should consider appropriate steps to reduce the incidence of opioid prescribing and the supply of these medications into the community.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages5
JournalEmergency Medicine Australasia
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Jun 2020


  • addiction
  • emergency department
  • opioid
  • opioid misuse
  • over prescription

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