Long-Term Use of Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone in Primary Care

Abstract [from journal]

Background: Hydrocodone and oxycodone are the Schedule II opioids most often prescribed in primary care. Notwithstanding the dangers of prescription opioid use, the likelihood of long-term use with either drug is presently unknown.

Methods: Using a retrospective cohort design and data from a commerical healthcare claims repository, we compared the likelihood of long-term use of hydrocodone and oxycodone in primary care patients presenting with acute back pain. Treatment was categorized as long-term if the prescription dates spanned ≥90 days from initial prescription to the run-out date of the last prescription, and included ≥120 days’ supply or ≥10 fills. Instrumental variable methods and probit regression were used to model the effect of drug choice on long-term use, estimate the average treatment effect, and correct for confounding by indication.

Results: A total of 3,983 patients who were prescribed only hydrocodone or only oxycodone were followed for 270 days in 2016. Long-term opioid use was observed in 320 patients (8%). Controlling for potential confounders including morphine milligram equivalents and dosage, an estimated 12% (95 CI, 10%–14%) treated with hydrocodone transitioned to long-term use vs. 2% (95 CI, 1%–3%) on oxycodone. Among patients who received more than one prescription (n = 1,866), an estimated 23% (95 CI, 19%–26%) treated with hydrocodone transitioned to long-term use vs. 5% (95 CI, 3%–7%) on oxycodone. The difference between drugs was supported in sensitivity and subgroup analyses. Sample selection bias was not detected.

Conclusions: Long-term use was substantially greater for patients treated with hydrocodone than oxycodone, despite equianalgesia.