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Patterns and Predictors of Prescription Medication Use in the Management of Headache: Findings From the 2000 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey


  • Joshua W. Devine PharmD, BCPS,

  • Joel F. Farley RPh,

  • Ronald S. Hadsall PhD

  • The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.

  • From the Social and Administrative Graduate Program, College of Pharmacy, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN (Drs. Devine, Farley, and Hadsall); and Air Force Institute of Technology, Allied Health Programs, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (Dr. Devine).

Address all correspondence to Dr. Joshua W. Devine, Social and Administrative Pharmacy Graduate Program, College of Pharmacy, 7-170 Weaver-Densford Hall, 308 Harvard Street S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.


Objective.—The primary objectives were to examine national trends of prescription medication use for headache and explore patterns of variation in the use of these medications across social and demographic levels.

Background.—Despite widespread use of prescription medication for management of headache, little is known about utilization patterns or patient characteristics associated with receiving this type of treatment.

Methods.—This study conducted a secondary analysis of data obtained during the 2000 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a representative survey of the U.S. noninstitutionalized population. Weighted descriptive statistics and logistic regression models were used to evaluate patterns and rates of overall prescription medication use in patients reporting headache as a household condition.

Results.—An estimated 9.7 million people 18 years or older reported suffering from headache in 2000. Of these, 46% reported using at least one medication for the treatment of headache. Migraine-specific abortive medication (ie, selective serotonin receptor agonists and ergotamine derivatives) was the most frequently reported medication class, used by 36% of participants. Opiate analgesics and butalbital-containing products also experienced extensive prescribing reported by 22% and 17% of survey respondents, respectively. After adjustment for covariates, wide variation in the use of prescription medication was observed across sociodemographic characteristics including age, ethnicity, and insurance status.

Conclusion.—The observed variation in prescription medication use by drug class and sociodemographic characteristics suggests strategies are needed for improving current prescribing patterns in this patient population.