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Poorer Physical and Mental Health Status Are Associated with Subsequent Opioid Prescriptions: a U.S. National Study



How physical and mental health status relate to receipt of opioid prescription remains unclear, creating uncertainty in minimizing opioid harms while avoiding pain under-treatment.


To examine the associations of physical and mental health status with subsequent opioid prescriptions.


Observational study of 2005–2015 United States (U.S.) Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data.


Adult respondents (N = 78,563) participating for 2 years. The analyses focused on respondents reporting no opioid prescriptions in year 1 (N = 65,249).

Main Measures

In the primary analysis, a negative binomial regression yielding adjusted incidence rate ratios (IRRs), the dependent variable was the number of opioid prescriptions in year 2. In two secondary analyses, both logistic regressions yielding adjusted odds ratios (ORs), the dependent variables were receipt of any opioid prescription (versus none) and receipt of ≥ 6 opioid prescriptions (versus 0–5) in year 2. The key independent variables in all analyses were the SF-12 Physical and Mental Component Summary scores (PCS-12 and MCS-12, respectively; higher scores = better health status). All models adjusted for socio-demographics, health-related variables, and year.

Key Results

Primary analysis. With each 10-point decrement in year 1 PCS-12 or MCS-12 score, there were more opioid prescriptions received in year 2 (adjusted IRRs [95% CIs] 1.45 [1.39–1.52] and 1.22 [1.16–1.27], respectively). Secondary analyses. With each 10-point decrement in year 1 PCS-12 or MCS-12 score, there were higher odds in year 2 both of receiving any opioid prescription (adjusted ORs 1.23 [1.19–1.28] and 1.11 [1.08–1.15], respectively) and of receiving ≥ 6 opioid prescriptions (adjusted ORs 1.96 [1.75–2.17] and 1.37 [1.23–1.54], respectively).


In a nationally representative U.S. sample, both poorer physical and mental health status independently predicted receiving more opioid prescriptions received in a subsequent year, as well as receiving ≥ 6 prescriptions during the year. Our findings may contribute to a more nuanced picture of the drivers of opioid prescription.

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Figure 1


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Author information

Correspondence to Anthony Jerant MD.

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Ethical approval for the study was provided by the University of California Davis Institutional Review Board (exempted status).

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The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

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Jerant, A., Agnoli, A. & Franks, P. Poorer Physical and Mental Health Status Are Associated with Subsequent Opioid Prescriptions: a U.S. National Study. J GEN INTERN MED 35, 554–560 (2020).

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  • analgesics
  • opioid
  • health status
  • pain
  • surveys and questionnaires
  • United States