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Risk of opioid misuse in people with cancer and pain and related clinical considerations: a qualitative study of the perspectives of Australian general practitioners.

Luckett T, Newton-John T, Phillips J, Holliday S, Giannitrapani K, Powell-Davies G, Lovell M, Liauw W, Rowett D, Pearson SA, Raymond B, Heneka N, Lorenz K. Risk of opioid misuse in people with cancer and pain and related clinical considerations: a qualitative study of the perspectives of Australian general practitioners. BMJ open. 2020 Feb 17; 10(2):e034363.

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Abstract:

OBJECTIVE: To explore the perspectives of general practitioners (GPs) concerning the risk of opioid misuse in people with cancer and pain and related clinical considerations. DESIGN: A qualitative approach using semistructured telephone interviews. Analysis used an integrative approach. SETTING: Primary care. PARTICIPANTS: Australian GPs with experience of prescribing opioids for people with cancer and pain. RESULTS: Twenty-two GPs participated, and three themes emerged. Theme 1 () contextualised misuse as a relatively minor concern compared with pain control and toxicity, and highlighted underlying systemic factors, including limitations in continuity of care and doctor expertise. Theme 2 () captured participants' relative comfort in prescribing opioids for pain in cancer versus non-cancer contexts, and acknowledgement that compassion and greater perceived community acceptance were driving factors, in addition to scientific support for mechanisms and clinical efficacy. Participant attitudes towards prescribing for people with cancer versus non-cancer pain differed most when cancer was in the palliative phase, when they were unconcerned by misuse. Participants were equivocal about the risk-benefit ratio of long-term opioid therapy in the chronic phase of cancer, and were reluctant to prescribe for disease-free survivors. Theme 3 () captured participants' acknowledgement that they sometimes prescribed opioids for cancer pain as a default, easier option compared with more holistic pain management. CONCLUSIONS: Findings highlight the role of specific clinical considerations in distinguishing risk of opioid misuse in the cancer versus non-cancer population, rather than diagnosis per se. Further efforts are needed to ensure continuity of care where opioid prescribing is shared. Greater evidence is needed to guide opioid prescribing in disease-free survivors and the chronic phase of cancer, especially in the context of new treatments for metastatic disease.





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