Studying Adverse Events Related to Prescription Opioids: The Utah Experience


  • Editor's Note: The following article is a historical review that interprets data and events in a narrative style. It provides information from a state public health department perspective and is intended to lay a foundation for more rigorous research, analysis, and public health improvement. It appears in the context of rising opioid-related overdose deaths as supported by data presented elsewhere in the supplement, particularly in the manuscript titled “An Analysis of the Root Causes for Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths in the United States.”

Christina A. Porucznik, PhD, MSPH, Division of Public Health, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of Utah, 375 Chipeta Way, Suite A, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA. Tel: 801-587-3315; Fax: 801-587-3353; E-mail:


Background.  Epidemiologists at the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) began to study prescription drug-related harm in 2004. We have analyzed several types of data including vital statistics, medical examiner records, emergency department diagnoses, and the state prescription registry to estimate the scope and correlates of prescription drug-related harm.

Objectives.  To describe data sets analyzed in Utah related to the problem of prescription drug-related harm with the goal of designing interventions to reduce the burden of adverse events and death.

Results.  Prescription drug-related harm in Utah primarily involved opioids and can be examined with secondary analysis of administrative databases, although each database has limitations.

Conclusions.  More analyses, likely from cohort studies, are needed to identify risky prescribing patterns and individual-level risk factors for opioid-related harm. Combining data sets via linkage procedures can generate individual-level drug exposure and outcome histories, which may be useful to simulate a prospective cohort.