Clinicians prescribed opioids for almost half of the teenagers they treated for headache when medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, are recommended as first-line therapies, according to a study today in the Journal of Adolescent Health . The study was conducted by WellPoint and HealthCore, the outcomes research subsidiary for WellPoint, in conjunction with representatives selected by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Neurology. The study included 8,373 adolescents from 13 to 17 years of age with recurring headaches. “Pediatric and adolescent use of opioids is a concern,” said Dr. Eric Wall, past chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Commission on Science. “The risk of abuse, as well as the potential for redirection, such as sharing with others, is high among adolescents.” Forty-six percent of those complaining of headache received an opioid prescription. Of those who received a prescription, nearly half – or 48 percent — received only one prescription, while 23 percent received two prescriptions and 29 percent received three or more prescriptions. Opioids, while effective in relieving pain, are not effective for treating migraine and the American Academy of Neurology states opioids should be used only as rescue therapy for acute migraine in specific situations. Medical guidelines recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or triptans as first-line therapy. Also, other studies have suggested that opioid use may contribute to the development of chronic daily headache in patients with episodic migraine and may actually prevent reversal of the migraine process. Teenagers with visits for headache to the emergency department had twice the rate of opioid prescriptions as those who had not visited the emergency department. And, those who had three or more emergency department visits were four times more likely to have opioid prescriptions. “However, the study contrasted with previous studies primarily focused on adult populations, which have suggested that patients seeking emergency treatment for headache may be seeking narcotics,” said lead author Andrea DeVries, HealthCore director of payer and provider research. “On teenagers’ first visits to the emergency department, most of them had no recent history of opioid prescription.”
Opioids – such as morphine, codeine, and oxycodone – are commonly prescribed to alleviate pain, however there have been increasing concerns regarding physical dependence and addiction. Other studies have found that prescription opioid abuse is the fastest growing form of drug abuse, however there is controversy regarding the level of risk for dependence in the general population.“One goal in doing this research, and based on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ input was to examine how the actual practice patterns for treating pediatric headache were following American Academy of Neurology guidelines,” said Dr. Alan Rosenberg, WellPoint vice president for medical policy. “The general impression was that opioid prescriptions for this population would be low. When the results were obtained, we all felt it important to share this information with physicians and build awareness of the issue.” The study showed much higher rates of opioid prescription than rates of around 12 percent that had been reported previously. “We used both medical and pharmacy claims in our data gathering, which allowed for a more comprehensive capture of prescription drug use than medical record or facility-based studies,” said DeVries. “Based on this work, we believe previous studies may have underreported prescription rates.” About WellPoint WellPoint is one of the nation’s leading health benefits companies. We believe that our health connects us all. So we focus on being a valued health partner and delivering quality products and services that give members access to the care they need. With nearly 68 million people served by our affiliated companies including nearly 36 million enrolled in our family of health plans, we can make a real difference to meet the needs of our diverse customers. We’re an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. We serve members as the Blue Cross licensee for California; and as the Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee for Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri (excluding 30 counties in the Kansas City area), Nevada, New Hampshire, New York (as the Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in 10 New York City metropolitan and surrounding counties and as the Blue Cross or Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in selected upstate counties only), Ohio, Virginia (excluding the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.), and Wisconsin. In most of these service areas, our plans do business as Anthem Blue Cross, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, or Empire Blue Cross (in the New York service areas). We also serve customers in other states through our Amerigroup and CareMore subsidiaries. To find out more about us, go to wellpoint.com. About HealthCore HealthCore, based in Wilmington, Del., is the clinical outcomes research subsidiary of WellPoint, Inc. HealthCore has a team of highly experienced researchers including physicians, biostatisticians, pharmacists, epidemiologists, health economists and other scientists who study the “real world” safety and effectiveness of drugs, medical devices and care management interventions. HealthCore offers insight on how to best use this data and communicates these findings to health care decision-makers to support evidence-based medicine, product development decisions, safety monitoring, coverage decisions, process improvement and overall cost-effective health care. For more information, go to www.healthcore.com.