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Project #122:
Opioid prescribing trends and changes during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and related public health measures have led to disruptions to the healthcare system, including prescribing behaviour. Internationally, increases in opioid prescribing to people in care homes and a shift away from non-pharmacological treatment to opioids for people with pain since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have raised concerns, and in the UK there have been reports of increased opioid use in people on outpatient procedure waiting lists. Prior to COVID-19, there were concerns about high opioid prescribing rates in the UK, especially for non-cancer pain and in areas of greater social deprivation. Thus it is important to understand if and how prescribing behaviour has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how this varies by sociodemographic factors.

We will use OpenSAFELY data to identify all registered adults prescribed opioids from Jan 2018 to Mar 2022. We will describe rates of opioid prescribing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and estimate any changes in prescribing patterns in the two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in relation to the start dates of the nationwide lockdowns. By focussing on key subgroups (people in care homes, people without cancer) and stratifying by relevant characteristics (age, Index of Multiple Deprivation, region) we will identify which groups were most affected which can help identify targets for improved prescribing.

  • Study lead: Andrea Schaffer
  • Organisation: University of Oxford and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Project type: Research
  • Topic area: Other/indirect impacts of COVID on health/healthcare