The association between hydroxyurea adherence and opioid utilization among Texas Medicaid enrollees with sickle cell disease

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Journal of Managed Care and Specialty Pharmacy

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© 2020 Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP). All rights reserved. BACKGROUND: Individuals with sickle cell disease (SCD) suffer from recurrent catastrophic pain crises that are often managed by opioid analgesics. Being adherent to hydroxyurea has been associated with decreased health care resource use for pain; however, evidence of its association with opioid use is limited. OBJECTIVE: To determine if adherence to hydroxyurea is associated with opioid use among patients with SCD. METHODS: This retrospective study used Texas Medicaid data from September 1, 2011, to August 31, 2016 (study period). The index date was the date of hydroxyurea initiation. Patients who were aged 2-63 years at the index date, had ≥1 inpatient or ≥2 outpatient SCD diagnoses during the study period, had ≥1 hydroxyurea prescription during the identification period (September 1, 2011-August 31, 2015), had no diagnosis of other indications for hydroxyurea during the study period, and were continuously enrolled for at least 12 months after the index date were included. Hydroxyurea adherence was measured using medication possession ratio (MPR). The study outcomes (measured 1-year post-index) were (a) opioid use; (b) number of opioid prescriptions; (c) strong opioid use (morphine, hydromorphone, fentanyl, and methadone); (d) number of strong opioid prescriptions; (e) high-dose opioid use (≥50 mg morphine milligram equivalent [MME]); and (f) days supply for opioid prescriptions. Covariates included demographic (age and gender) and clinical (vaso-occlusive crisis [VOC], avascular necrosis, iron overload, acute chest syndrome, and blood transfusion) characteristics. Descriptive, bivariate (chi-square and Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney tests), multiple logistic regression, and negative binomial regression analyses were performed. RESULTS: 1,146 patients (18.3 [12.3] years) met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 19.6% were adherent to hydroxyurea (defined as MPR ≥ 80%) and mean (SD) MPR was 48.3% (29.7%). In the 1 year following hydroxyurea initiation, 923 (80.5%) patients had ≥1 opioid prescription with 7.6 (9.4) opioid prescriptions per patient, while 259 (22.6%) patients had ≥1 strong opioid prescription with 1.5 (4.4) strong opioid prescriptions per patient. Average (SD) opioid dose was 41.7 (74.3) mg MME, and 27.1% had high daily MME doses (≥50 mg MME). Average (SD) opioid days supply was 83.1 (112.2) days. After adjusting for covariates, compared with being nonadherent, being adherent to hydroxyurea was associated with a 50.5% decreased risk of having strong opioids (OR=0.495, 95% CI=0.278-0.879, P=0.0165). Additionally, SCD-related complications (VOC, avascular necrosis, and iron overload) and older age were significant factors associated with opioid use and higher MME. Post hoc analyses showed that being adherent to hydroxyurea was significantly associated with lower probabilities of experiencing SCD-related complications. CONCLUSIONS: Results showed that patients with SCD are moderately adherent to hydroxyurea. Being adherent to hydroxyurea was found to be associated with a lower risk of receiving a prescription for strong opioids. Findings suggest that close monitoring and interventions to improve adherence may help mitigate strong opioid use among these patients.