UMass Chan Medical School Faculty Publications

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Department of Emergency Medicine

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Emergency Medicine | Health Services Administration | Health Services Research


INTRODUCTION: There is concern about the initiation of opiates in healthcare settings due to the risk of future misuse. Although opiate medications have historically been at the core of prehospital pain management, several states are introducing non-opiate alternatives to prehospital care. Prior studies suggest that non-opiate analgesics are non-inferior to opiates for many acute complaints, yet there is little literature describing practice patterns of pain management in prehospital care. Our goal was to describe the practice patterns and attitudes of paramedics toward pain management after the introduction of non-opiates to a statewide protocol.

METHODS: This study was two-armed. The first arm employed a pre/post retrospective chart review model examining medication administrations reported to the Massachusetts Ambulance Trip Information System between January 1, 2017-December 31, 2018. We abstracted instances of opiate and non-opiate utilizations along with patients' clinical course. The second arm consisted of a survey administered to paramedics one year after implementation of non-opiates in the state protocol, which used binary questions and Likert scales to describe beliefs pertaining to prehospital analgesia.

RESULTS: Pain medications were administered in 1.6% of emergency medical services incidents in 2017 and 1.7% of incidents in 2018. The rate of opiate analgesic use was reduced by 9.4% in 2018 compared to 2017 (90.6% vs 100.0%). The absolute reduction in opiate use in 2018 was 3.6%. Women were less likely (odds ratio [OR] = 0.78, 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.69-0.89) and trauma patients were more likely to receive opiates (OR = 2.36, CI, 1.96-2.84). Mean transport times were longer in opiate administration incidents (36.97 vs 29.35 minutes, t = 17.34, p < 0.0001). We surveyed 100 paramedics (mean age 41.98, 84% male). Compositely, 85% of paramedics planned to use non-opiates and 35% reported having done so. Participants planning to use non-opiates were younger and less experienced. Participants indicated that concern about adverse effects, efficacy, and time to effect impacted their practice patterns.

CONCLUSION: The introduction of non-opiate pain medication to state protocols led to reduced opiate administration. Men and trauma patients were more likely to receive opiates. Paramedics reported enthusiasm for non-opiate medications. Beliefs about non-opioid analgesics pertaining to adverse effects, onset time, and efficacy may influence their utilization.


prehospital care, paramedics, EMS, pain management, non-opiates, practice patterns

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Copyright: © 2020 O’Connor et al. This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) License. See:

DOI of Published Version



O'Connor L, Dugas J, Brady J, Kamilaris A, Shiba SK, Kue RC, Broach JP. Paramedic Pain Management Practice with Introduction of a Non-opiate Treatment Protocol. West J Emerg Med. 2020 Aug 21;21(5):1234-1241. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2020.6.47032. PMID: 32970580; PMCID: PMC7514409. Link to article on publisher's site

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The western journal of emergency medicine

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.