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Sprained Ankles Had Doctors Pulling Out Prescription Pads, Study Finds

map of US show one in four ankle sprains resulted in an opioid prescription in the west. Prescriptions were given at an above average rate in the south, and below average in the great lakes and northeast regions.
With permission M. Kit Delgado, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Annalls of Emergency Medicine.
Opioid prescribing rates for patients visiting the ER for ankle sprains in 2014 and 2015.

A state-by-state analysis of opioid prescriptions for people who visited emergency rooms with a sprained ankle show one in four patients were given opioids for pain.

The study looked at insurance claims for ER visits between 2011 and 2015.

At the low end, prescribing rates were around three percent and at the high end 40. The overall average was 25 percent.

“We were pretty surprised to see that this high of a proportion of patients who were being treated for this condition were getting opioids,” said Kit Delgado, the lead author of the paper and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

There was not enough data to track Wyoming and Montana but Colorado, Utah and Idaho prescribing rates were around the 25 percent level.

Between 2011 and 2015 awareness about opioids was still growing, Delgado said.

“It showed that there was definitely some room for improvement in terms of not overprescribing for a minor injury like an ankle sprain.”

Prescribing rates are going down though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed new prescribing guidelines for doctors in 2017.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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