Tramadol Use in United States Emergency Departments 2007-2018

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



The Journal of emergency medicine




opioids; pain management; tramadol


BACKGROUND: Amidst the opioid epidemic, there has been an increasing focus on opioid utilization in U.S. emergency departments (EDs). Compared with other opioids, little is known about the use of tramadol over the past decade. Tramadol has uncertain efficacy and a concerning adverse effect profile compared with traditional opioids. OBJECTIVE: Our aim was to describe trends in tramadol use in U.S. EDs between 2007 and 2018. METHODS: We analyzed the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2007 to 2018 to examine ED visits by patients 18 years or older in which tramadol was administered or prescribed. We examined trends in demographics and resource utilization and compared these trends with those of traditional opioids. Survey-weighted analyses were conducted to provide national-level estimates. RESULTS: Between 2007 and 2018, ED visits in which tramadol was used increased 70.6%, from 1.7% of all ED visits in 2007 to 2.9% in 2018. The largest increases were noted among patients aged 55 through 64 years and 65 years and older. Diagnostic resource utilization increased across the study period. Overall opioid utilization during the study period decreased from 28.4% in 2007 to 17.9% in 2018 (p < 0.001). The use of other specific opioids declined or remained stable between 2007 and 2018. CONCLUSIONS: Although the use of traditional opioids decreased from 2007 to 2018, the use of tramadol increased. Increases were largest among older patients, who may be more susceptible to the adverse effects associated with this medication. Further research in the appropriate use of tramadol in the ED setting is warranted.


Emergency Medicine