Qualitative insights into the opioid prescribing practices of Australian GP

Pallavi Prathivadi, Chris Barton, Danielle Mazza
Family Practice 2019 November 26

BACKGROUND: Over the last three decades, Australian opioid-prescribing rates and related morbidity and mortality have dramatically increased. Opioids are frequently prescribed by general practitioners (GPs) to manage chronic non-cancer pain, despite evidence-based recommendations from the Centre for Disease Control, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and World Health Organization widely cautioning their use. Little is known about the factors influencing the opioid prescribing decisions of Australian GPs, especially when not evidence based.

OBJECTIVE: To explore the opioid prescribing knowledge, attitudes and practices of Australian GPs.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews with 20 GPs recruited from the Monash University practice-based research network in metropolitan, southeastern Melbourne. Thematic analysis was used to identify emergent themes. Data were managed using QSR NVivo. Ethics approval was granted by Monash University.

RESULTS: Three key themes emerged. GP attitudes towards opioid use for chronic pain varied by age of patient and goals for therapy. Use of opioids for elderly patients was positively perceived. GPs were reluctant to use opioids in younger patients due to fears of addiction and difficulty weaning. GPs felt obliged to prescribe opioids recommended by specialists, even if they believed the opioids were unsafe.

CONCLUSION: This study identified and described the patient-centred nature of GP opioid prescribing decisions. Patient age and perceived age-related opioid harm were important factors influencing prescribing decisions. Future work should inform interventions that value GP autonomy while still encouraging a collaborative inter-speciality approach to managing chronic pain patients with opioids.


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