Statistical analyses of recurrent event data have typically been based on the missing at random assumption. One implication of this is that, if data are collected only when patients are on their randomized treatment, the resulting de jure estimator of treatment effect corresponds to the situation in which the patients adhere to this regime throughout the study. For confirmatory analysis of clinical trials, sensitivity analyses are required to investigate alternative de facto estimands that depart from this assumption. Recent publications have described the use of multiple imputation methods based on pattern mixture models for continuous outcomes, where imputation for the missing data for one treatment arm (e.g. the active arm) is based on the statistical behaviour of outcomes in another arm (e.g. the placebo arm). This has been referred to as controlled imputation or reference-based imputation. In this paper, we use the negative multinomial distribution to apply this approach to analyses of recurrent events and other similar outcomes. The methods are illustrated by a trial in severe asthma where the primary endpoint was rate of exacerbations and the primary analysis was based on the negative binomial model. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.