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New research probes patient-doctor communication on prescription drug abuse

New research from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids confirms several “disconnects” in the pain-related communication between health-care prescribers of prescription opiates and their patients. The new data was fielded by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, in collaboration with the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pain Management and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals to gain a better understanding of the interactions between opiate-prescribing health-care providers and patients.

May 5, 2015  By Massage Therapy Canada staff

The new research uncovered concerning disconnects that can have the
potential to make patients more vulnerable to misuse and abuse of
prescription drugs, which in turn may lead to dependence or addiction to
prescribed or illegal opiates. In fact, four out of five heroin users
are abusing prescription opiates. Although most patients do not misuse
or abuse their prescriptions, roughly one in 10 pain patients (seven per
cent of chronic pain patients and 13 per cent of acute pain patients)
report misusing their opiate prescription medicines, and more than one
in 10 (13 per cent of chronic pain patients and 15 per cent of acute
pain patients) have taken someone else’s opiate prescription.

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

The new data also
show that a majority of prescribers say they discuss the potential of
dependence or addiction with their pain patients. Two-thirds of primary
care physicians (65 per cent) and half of pain management specialists
(51 per cent) say they “always” give information regarding the potential
for addiction and dependency. And indeed, more than three in four
prescribers surveyed (77 per cent) 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 per cent of chronic pain patients and 40 per cent of
acute pain patients said “no one.”

“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,” said Marcia Lee Taylor, interim president and CEO of the
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “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.”


The new research found 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
per cent of primary care physicians and 75 per cent 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 per cent of chronic pain patients and 82 per cent
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 painkillers. The data found that while a
majority of patients surveyed said they take their prescription
painkillers as directed, more than four in 10 chronic pain patients (43
per cent) took longer to finish their prescription and 50 per cent of
acute pain patients did not finish their pain medication as directed –
usually in an effort to prolong their prescription or save for another

According to the new data, patients pay little attention
to the proper storage and disposal of medications. Only 11 per cent of
chronic pain patients and 13 per cent of acute pain patients say they
are concerned with someone else in their household accessing their
medications; and only 42 per cent of chronic and 52 per cent of acute
pain patients who have children in the household said they store their
medication somewhere their children cannot reach.

While a
majority of pain patients reported their doctors did not discuss proper
storage and disposal of prescription painkillers with them,
approximately 20 per cent of physicians said they had those important

Approximately one in five prescribers said they
“always” give their patients information on how to store and dispose of
their medications, including information on where to store medication
and what to do with expired medication.

Most patients reported they did not receive information on where to store medication or what to do with expired medication.

and dialogue among patients, caregivers, health-care providers and the
community are essential to build awareness on the responsible
prescribing, use, storage and disposal of pain medication,” said Mark
Trudeau, president and CEO of Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals.
“Mallinckrodt is dedicated to providing safe and effective medications
to treat pain and is equally committed to help address the complex
issues of opioid addiction and abuse. This includes raising awareness of
the proper use, storage and disposal of prescription medicines.”

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