Frequency of Opioid Prescribing for Acute Low Back Pain in a Rural Emergency Department

Jean E. Jauregui, Rita J. Nutt, Asa M. Margolis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


National guidelines created by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), and the American College of Physicians (ACP) support the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) over opioids when treating acute low back pain (AHRQ, 2016; Harrison, 2017; Qaseem, Wilt, McLean, Forciea, & Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians, 2017). Opioids not only have many more side effects than NSAIDs but also carry the risk of opioid abuse and overdose (Qaseem et al., 2017). The purpose of this study was to determine whether emergency department (ED) providers, including physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, are following evidence-based low back pain management guidelines by assessing the measurement of opioid versus NSAID prescribing. A retrospective chart review including data from January through June 2017 was conducted at a rural ED. Subject inclusion criteria were as follows: older than 18 years, had experienced new-onset low back pain within the last 1 month, and had been given an ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision) code of M54.5. Data regarding the type of provider seen, the treatment the provider prescribed, and demographics were collected. Inclusion criteria were met by 162 subjects. While 52.5% of subjects were prescribed an NSAID at discharge, 53.7% were prescribed an opioid at discharge. Subjects whose injury was work related were less likely to receive an opioid prescription (p = 0.027, 95% CL). Subjects whose pain started within 3 days were more likely to receive an opioid prescription than those whose pain had started more than 3 days before being seen (p = 0.018, 95% CL). Despite the current evidence-based guidelines by the AHRQ, ACEP, and ACP against opioid prescribing for acute low back pain, more subjects received an opioid prescription at discharge than a prescription for an NSAID. This retrospective chart review determined the need for increased ED provider education regarding treatment modalities for acute low back pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-214
Number of pages5
JournalAdvanced Emergency Nursing Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • acute low back pain
  • low back pain
  • opioid prescribing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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