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BACKGROUND: We have previously demonstrated that opioid prescribing increased by 127% between 1998 and 2016. New policies aimed at tackling this increasing trend have been recommended by public health bodies, and there is some evidence that progress is being made. OBJECTIVE: We sought to extend our previous work and develop a data-driven approach to identify general practices and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) whose prescribing data suggest that interventions to reduce the prescribing of opioids may have been successfully implemented. METHODS: We analyzed 5 years of prescribing data (December 2014 to November 2019) for 3 opioid prescribing measures-total opioid prescribing as oral morphine equivalent per 1000 registered population, the number of high-dose opioids prescribed per 1000 registered population, and the number of high-dose opioids as a percentage of total opioids prescribed. Using a data-driven approach, we applied a modified version of our change detection Python library to identify reductions in these measures over time, which may be consistent with the successful implementation of an intervention to reduce opioid prescribing. This analysis was carried out for general practices and CCGs, and organizations were ranked according to the change in prescribing rate. RESULTS: We identified a reduction in total opioid prescribing in 94 (49.2%) out of 191 CCGs, with a median reduction of 15.1 (IQR 11.8-18.7; range 9.0-32.8) in total oral morphine equivalence per 1000 patients. We present data for the 3 CCGs and practices demonstrating the biggest reduction in opioid prescribing for each of the 3 opioid prescribing measures. We observed a 40% proportional drop (8.9% absolute reduction) in the regular prescribing of high-dose opioids (measured as a percentage of regular opioids) in the highest-ranked CCG (North Tyneside); a 99% drop in this same measure was found in several practices (44%-95% absolute reduction). Decile plots demonstrate that CCGs exhibiting large reductions in opioid prescribing do so via slow and gradual reductions over a long period of time (typically over a period of 2 years); in contrast, practices exhibiting large reductions do so rapidly over a much shorter period of time. CONCLUSIONS: By applying 1 of our existing analysis tools to a national data set, we were able to identify rapid and maintained changes in opioid prescribing within practices and CCGs and rank organizations by the magnitude of reduction. Highly ranked organizations are candidates for further qualitative research into intervention design and implementation.

Original publication




Journal article


JMIR Public Health Surveill

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analysis tool, data science, data-driven, electronic health records, general practice, identification, implementation science, implementations, intervention, opioid, opioid analgesics, prescribing data, primary care, proof of concept, unbiased, Humans, Analgesics, Opioid, Retrospective Studies, Practice Patterns, Physicians', Databases, Factual, Drug Prescriptions