The impact of California wildfires on patient access to prescription opioids

Iraklis E. Tseregounis, Chris Delcher, Susan L. Stewart, James J. Gasper, Aaron B. Shev, Andrew Crawford, Garen Wintemute, Stephen G. Henry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Patients on long-term opioid therapy are particularly vulnerable to disruptions in medication access, especially during traumatic and chaotic events such as wildfires and other natural disasters. Objectives: To determine whether past highly destructive California wildfires were associated with disrupted access to prescription opioids for patients receiving long-term, and therefore physically dependent on, opioid medications. Methods: Using California prescription drug monitoring program data, this retrospective study selected patients with long-term prescription opioid use episodes residing in ZIP code tabulation areas impacted by either the Camp Fire or Tubbs Fire. Autoregressive integrated moving average time series models were fit to pre-fire data to forecast post-fire expected values and then compared with observed post-fire data, specifically for weekly proportions of long-term episodes with early fills, late fills, changes in patients’ prescriber and pharmacy, and fills within a different ZIP code tabulation area than the patient's residence. Results: After the Camp Fire, there were significant spikes in the proportions of early fills (peak at 56% of total, week 1 after fire), late fills (peak at 29%, week 6), and immediate significant increases in prescriber (peak at 37%, week 3) and pharmacy changes (peak at 71%, week 1) in high-impact ZIP code tabulation areas. Low-impact ZIP code tabulation areas experienced no similar disruptions. Disruptions due to the Tubbs Fire were far less severe. Conclusion: Access to prescription opioids was greatly disrupted for patients living in areas most impacted by the Camp Fire. Future research should explore effectiveness of current state and federal controlled substance prescribing policies to determine what improvements are needed to minimize disruptions in medication access due to wildfires and other natural disasters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1769-1777
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Pharmacists Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH; R01DA044282 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Pharmacists Association®

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (nursing)
  • Pharmacy
  • Pharmacology


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