The increasing trends in opioid prescribing and opioid-related deaths in England are concerning. A greater understanding of the association of deprivation with opioid prescribing is needed to guide policy responses and interventions.
The 2018/2019 English national primary care prescribing data were analysed spatially. Prescribing of opioids in general practice was quantified by defined daily doses (DDD) and attributed to 32 844 lower layer super output areas (LSOAs), the geographical units representing ~1500 people. Linear regression was used to model the effect of socioeconomic deprivation (quintiles) on opioid prescribing while accounting for population demographics and the prevalence of specific health conditions. Adjusted DDD estimates were compared at each deprivation level within higher organisational areas (Clinical Commissioning Groups, CCGs).
In total, 624 411 164 DDDs of opioids were prescribed. LSOA-level prescribing varied between 1.7 and 121.04 DDD/1000 population/day. Prescribing in the most deprived areas in the North of England was 1.2 times higher than the national average for areas with similar deprivation levels and 3.3 times higher than the most deprived areas in London. Prescribing in the most deprived areas was on average 9.70 DDD/1000 people/day (95% CI 9.41 to 10.00) higher than the least deprived areas. Deprivation-driven disparities varied between individual CCGs. In the most unequal CCG, prescribing in the most deprived areas was twice that in the least deprived areas.
Opioid prescribing varied substantially across England and deprivation was strongly associated with prescribing. This paper provides evidence for guiding policy interventions and allocation of resources to areas with the highest levels of opioid prescribing.