The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on opioid prescribing for patients with pleuritic pain




opioid prescribing, internal medicine, inpatient, pain management, COVID-19


Objective: We sought to understand opioid prescribing for COVID-19 positive and negative patients with pleuritic pain during the first wave of the pandemic. We hypothesized that patients without COVID-19 would be prescribed opioids more frequently intrapandemic compared to prepandemic and postulated that COVID-19 patients would be prescribed opioids more frequently and at greater quantity than their peers.

Design: A retrospective observational analysis of electronic health record data.

Setting: A quaternary academic hospital from February through April 2020.

Participants: A total of 1,400 of 3,169 adult inpatient hospitalizations involving pleuritic pain were included.

Main measures: Frequency and average daily dose of opioid prescriptions were analyzed using logistic and linear regression. Opioid prescribing habits were compared pre- and intrapandemic. Hypotheses and primary outcome measures were formulated prior to data collection.

Key results: During the pandemic, COVID-19 patients were 15.77 absolute percentage points less likely to be prescribed opioids compared to patients without COVID-19 (95 percent confidence interval (CI): –8.98 to –22.56 percent). Patients without COVID-19 were equally likely to be prescribed opioids pre- and intrapandemic (95 percent CI: –9.37 to 2.42 percent). Odds ratio of opioid prescription for COVID-19 patients was 0.44 (95 percent CI: 0.08-0.80). Within those given opioids, COVID-19 patients were prescribed 3.0 percent greater morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) (95 percent CI: 1.07-5.85 percent).

Conclusion: During the first wave of the pandemic, COVID-19 patients with pleuritic pain were prescribed opioids less frequently than patients without COVID-19, while patients without COVID-19 were equally likely to be prescribed opioid pre- and intrapandemic. On the other hand, COVID-19 patients treated with opioids were given greater daily MMEs due to the greater utilization of opioid infusions.

Author Biographies

Andrew Ormsby, MD

Medical Student, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, Colorado

Caitlin Dietsche, MD

Assistant Professor of Hospital Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado


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How to Cite

Ormsby, MD, A., and C. Dietsche, MD. “The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Opioid Prescribing for Patients With Pleuritic Pain”. Journal of Opioid Management, vol. 18, no. 6, Nov. 2022, pp. 529-35, doi:10.5055/jom.2022.0748.