Document Type


Publication Date



This article is the author’s final published version in BMC Health Services Research, Volume 23, Issue 1, April 2023, Article number 364.

The published version is available at Copyright © Adalbert et al.


Background: Prescription opioids remain an important contributor to the United States opioid crisis and to the development of opioid use disorder for opioid-naïve individuals. Recent legislative actions, such as the implementation of state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), aim to reduce opioid morbidity and mortality through enhanced tracking and reporting of prescription data. The primary objective of our study was to describe the opioid prescribing trends in the state of Pennsylvania (PA) as recorded by the PA PDMP following legislative changes in reporting guidelines, and discuss the PDMP's role in a multifactorial approach to opioid harm reduction.

Methods: State-level opioid prescription data summaries recorded by the PA PDMP for each calendar quarter from August 2016 through March 2020 were collected from the PA Department of Health. Data for oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine were analyzed by quarter for total prescription numbers and refills. Prescription lengths, pill quantities, and average morphine milliequivalents (MMEs) were analyzed by quarter for all 14 opioid prescription variants recorded by the PA PDMP. Linear regression was conducted for each group of variables to identify significant differences in prescribing trends.

Results: For total prescriptions dispensed, the number of oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine prescriptions decreased by 34.4, 44.6, and 22.3% respectively (p < 0.0001). Refills fluctuated less consistently with general peaks in Q3 of 2017 and Q3 of 2018 (p = 0.2878). The rate of prescribing for all opioid prescription lengths decreased, ranging in frequency from 22 to 30 days (47.5% of prescriptions) to 31+ days of opioids (0.8% of prescriptions) (p < 0.0001). Similarly, decreased prescribing was observed for all prescription amounts, ranging in frequency from 22 to 60 pills (36.6% of prescriptions) to 60-90 pills (14.2% of prescriptions) (p < 0.0001). Overall, the average MME per opioid prescription decreased by 18.9%.

Conclusions: Per the PA PDMP database, opioid prescribing has decreased significantly in PA from 2016 to 2020. The PDMP database is an important tool for tracking opioid prescribing trends in PA, and PDMPs structured similarly in other states may enhance our ability to understand and influence the trajectory of the U.S. opioid crisis. Further research is needed to determine optimal PDMP policies and practices nationwide.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.





To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.