Prescription Opioid Dispensing Patterns Prior to Heroin Overdose in a State Medicaid Program: a Case-Control Study

Daniel M. Hartung, Kirbee A. Johnston, Sara Hallvik, Gillian Leichtling, Jonah Geddes, Christi Hildebran, Shellie Keast, Brian Chan, P. Todd Korthuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: A large proportion of individuals who use heroin report initiating opioid use with prescription opioids. However, patterns of prescription opioid use preceding heroin-related overdose have not been described. Objective: To describe prescription opioid use in the year preceding heroin overdose. Design: Case-control study comparing prescription opioid use with a heroin-involved overdose, non-heroin-involved opioid overdose, and non-overdose controls from 2015 to 2017. Participants: Oregon Medicaid beneficiaries with linked administrative claims, vital statistics, and prescription drug monitoring program data. Main Measures: Opioid, benzodiazepine, and other central nervous system depressant prescriptions preceding overdose; among individuals with one or more opioid prescription, we assessed morphine milligram equivalents per day, overlapping prescriptions, prescriptions from multiple prescribers, long-term use, and discontinuation of long-term use. Key Results: We identified 1458 heroin-involved overdoses (191 fatal) and 2050 non-heroin-involved opioid overdoses (266 fatal). In the 365 days prior to their overdose, 45% of individuals with a heroin-involved overdose received at least one prescribed opioid compared with 78% of individuals who experienced a non-heroin-involved opioid overdose (p < 0.001). For both heroin- and non-heroin-involved overdose cases, the likelihood of receiving an opioid increased with age. Among heroin overdose cases with an opioid dispensed, the rate of multiple pharmacy use was the only high-risk opioid pattern that was greater than non-overdose controls (adjusted odds ratio 3.2; 95% confidence interval 1.48 to 6.95). Discontinuation of long-term opioid use was not common prior to heroin overdose and not higher than discontinuation rates among non-overdose controls. Conclusions: Although individuals with a heroin-involved overdose were less likely to receive prescribed opioids in the year preceding their overdose relative to non-heroin opioid overdose cases, prescription opioid use was relatively common and increased with age. Discontinuation of long-term prescription opioid use was not associated with heroin-involved overdose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3188-3196
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • heroin
  • overdose
  • prescription opioids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Prescription Opioid Dispensing Patterns Prior to Heroin Overdose in a State Medicaid Program: a Case-Control Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this