New Report Urges Increased MD-Patient Communication On Pain Management

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A majority of prescribers say they discuss the potential of dependence or addiction with their pain patients.
A majority of prescribers say they discuss the potential of dependence or addiction with their pain patients.

A new report urges better communication between physicians and patients about prescription opiates, and notes several areas where communication could improve.

The new data were fielded by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, in collaboration with the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pain Management;and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals and were based on two research components: a qualitative analysis of recorded conversations between prescribers and patients regarding pain management and opiate prescriptions; and an online survey quantifying the themes uncovered in these conversations among both constituents.

Almost half of pain patients surveyed (46%) expressed some form of concern about taking prescription opiates: 39% of chronic pain patients and 30% of acute pain patients reported they are concerned with becoming addicted to their pain medications; and 38% of chronic pain patients and 43% of acute pain patients reported feeling uncomfortable taking their prescribed opiate prescriptions.

The new data also indicated that most prescribers said they discuss the potential of dependence or addiction with their pain patients. 

Two-thirds of primary care physicians (65%) and half of pain management specialists (51%) said they “always” give information regarding the potential for addiction and dependency. More than three in four prescribers surveyed (77%) said they are primarily responsible for providing information about the potential to become addicted or dependent on opiates. 

When asked who, if anyone, had explained to them the potential for becoming dependent on or addicted to prescription painkillers, 19% of chronic pain patients and 40% of acute pain patients said “no one.”

The new research noted that physicians are concerned that patients are not taking their prescription painkillers as instructed, often taking larger quantities than prescribed in a 24-hour period, prolonging their prescriptions or taking them for reasons other than those prescribed by their doctors. 

The majority of prescribers (77% of primary care physicians and 75% of pain management specialists) believe that patients do not always use their prescribed opiates in accordance with instructions.

Among patients, more than eight in 10 (85% of chronic pain patients and 82% of acute pain patients) say they always follow the instructions from their physicians when taking their opiate prescriptions. Yet among the majority of patients who say they believe it is important to comply with their doctor's instructions, many do not follow their physician's orders when taking their Rx painkillers. 

The data also indicated that while a majority of patients surveyed said they take their prescription painkillers as directed, more than four in 10 chronic pain patients (43%) took longer to finish their prescription and 50% of acute pain patients did not finish their pain medication as directed – usually in an effort to prolong their prescription or save for another time.

The new data also indicated patients pay little attention to the proper storage and disposal of medications – perhaps because they are unlikely to learn about this from their prescriber. 

Only 11% of chronic pain patients and 13% of acute pain patients say they are concerned with someone else in their household accessing their medications; and only 42% of chronic and 52% of acute pain patients who have children in the household said they store their medication somewhere their children cannot reach.

“This research highlights key opportunities for prescribers of Rx opiates and their patients to have better communication around proper use and disposal of prescribed painkillers,” Marcia Lee Taylor, Interim President and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids said in a prepared statement about the report. “The Centers for Disease Control has deemed abuse of prescription painkillers an ‘epidemic,' and we can all do our part to help turn the tide on this critical health issue. Prescribers and patients can become more aware of the repercussions surrounding the improper storage and disposal of Rx pain medications and talk more at length in order to improve doctor-patient communication and help curb abuse.”

Read the full report and key findings. For more information, please visit drugfree.org.

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