Opioid and sedative-hypnotic prescriptions among post-9/11 veteran va users nationwide with traumatic brain injury, 2012-2020

Haley K. Holmer, Tess A. Gilbert, Alexandria J. Ashraf, Maya E. O'Neil, Kathleen F. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objective: Many post-9/11 Veterans have received Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare for traumatic brain injury (TBI). Pain conditions are prevalent among these patients and are often managed with opioid analgesics. Opioids may impose unique risks to Veterans with a history of TBI, especially when combined with other psychotropic medications. We examined receipt of opioid and sedative-hypnotic prescriptions among post-9/11 Veterans with TBI who received VA care nationally between 2012 and 2020. Setting: Nationwide VA outpatient care. Participants: Veterans with, versus without, clinician-confirmed TBI based on the VA's Comprehensive TBI Evaluation (CTBIE) were followed up for subsequent years in which they received VA care. Design: A historical cohort study. Main Measures: Proportions of Veterans who received opioid, benzodiazepine, and nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic prescriptions were compared by CTBIE outcome (TBI yes/no) and by year; overlaps between medication classes, long-term opioid therapy, and high-dose opioid therapy were also examined. Among those with confirmed TBI, logistic regression was used to examine associations between veteran characteristics and likelihood of these potentially high-risk opioid use outcomes. Results: Among 69 752 Veterans with clinicianconfirmed TBI, 26.9% subsequently received opioids. The prevalence receiving opioids each year increased from 2012 (16.7%) to 2014 (17.7%), and then decreased each of the following years through 2020 (5.8%). Among Veterans with TBI who received opioids, large proportions also received benzodiazepine (30.1%) and nonbenzodiazepine (36.0%) sedative-hypnotic prescriptions; these proportions also decreased in recent years. In both bivariable and multivariable regression models, Veterans' demographic, TBI, and clinical characteristics were associated with likelihood of potentially high-risk opioid use. Conclusions: VA opioid prescribing to Veterans with TBI has decreased in recent years but remains an important source of risk, particularly when considering coprescriptions of sedative-hypnotic medication. Understanding patterns of psychotropic prescription use among Veterans with TBI can highlight important healthcare and rehabilitation needs in this large patient cohort.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)354-362
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Health services
  • Injury
  • Opioids
  • Rehabilitation
  • Trauma
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Clinical Neurology


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