Opioid Abuse Aptitude Lacking Among Physicians

All health care professionals acknowledge that prescription pain pill abuse is a problem.

All health care professionals acknowledge that prescription pain pill abuse is a problem. Still, many physicians misunderstand its key facets, leading to continued opioid overprescribing.

For instance, almost half of the practicing internists, family physicians, and general practitioners recently surveyed by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers erroneously believed that abuse-deterrent opioid formulations were less addictive than their original counterparts.

“This is an important issue because clinicians may be falsely assured by abuse-deterrent forms,” study author Caleb Alexander, MD, MS, told Pharmacy Times.

Additionally, one-third of the primary care physicians could not correctly identify the most common method of opioid abuse, which is swallowing the pills whole. Perhaps even more alarmingly, one-quarter reported that they were either not concerned or only slightly concerned about potential diversion of legitimate opioid prescriptions to the illicit market.

Nevertheless, nearly 90% of the physicians surveyed said they strongly support requiring patients to visit a single pharmacy or prescriber to cut down on “doctor shopping” for pain pills.

Dr. Alexander told Pharmacy Times that pharmacists could play a vital role in education about opioid abuse, especially for patients.

“Many patients, as with physicians, may overestimate the effectiveness of opioids and underestimate the risks, including their addictive potential,” he said.

While time constraints may be a barrier to communication between retail pharmacists and physicians, Dr. Alexander saw greater opportunities for health-system pharmacists and pharmacists in managed care to engage directly with physicians.

Those surveyed supported clinical and regulatory inventions to cut down on opioid abuse, including patient contracts, urine drug testing, and using a centralized database prior to prescribing painkillers.

However, one-third noted that these kinds of interventions could somewhat or significantly prevent access to opioids for legitimate pain patients.

The survey results were published in the Clinical Journal of Pain.

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