Background: This study replicates a previous postal survey of general practitioners (GPs) to explore whether attitudes to opioid prescribing have changed at a time when the number of opioid prescriptions issued in primary care has increased.
Methods: With permission, a 57-item survey instrument previously utilised with GPs in the South-west of England was circulated to 214 GPs in city-centre practices in the East Midlands. The survey instrument included items relating to practice context, prescribing patterns and attitudes about analgesic medication, perceived prescribing frequency and reluctance to prescribe.
Results: Responses were received from 94 GPs (45%). Almost three-quarters (72.7%) of GPs reported that they sometimes or frequently prescribed strong opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. Over two-thirds (67.8%) reported that they were sometimes or frequently reluctant to prescribe strong opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. No significant relationships were observed between perceived frequency of prescribing and a range of demographic factors; however, concerns about ‘physical dependence’, ‘long-term commitment to prescribing’ and ‘media reports’ were associated with less frequent reported prescribing of, and greater reluctance to prescribe, strong opioids.
Discussion: Given the national trend for increased opioid prescriptions, it is unsurprising that more frequent self-reported prescribing is reported here; however, increased frequency does not translate into less reluctance about prescribing. The effectiveness of strong opioids for chronic pain is recognised, but concerns about addiction, dependence and misuse inform a reluctance to use strong opioids. These juxtapositions highlight a continued need for clearer understanding of GPs’ perceptions of strong opioids and point to the potential benefit of dedicated guidelines or specialist education and training to address their uncertainties.