Our study sought to examine the opioid analgesic (OA) prescribing decisions of emergency department (ED) providers who have themselves used OA therapeutically and those who have not. A second objective was to determine if OA prescribing decisions would differ based on the patient’s relationship to the provider.
An electronic survey was distributed to a random sample of ED providers at participating centers in a nationwide research consortium. Question topics included provider attitudes about OA prescribing, prior personal therapeutic use of OAs (indications, dosing, and disposal of leftover medication), and hypothetical analgesic prescribing decisions for their patients, family members, and themselves for different painful conditions.
The total survey population was 957 individuals; 515 responded to the survey, a 54% response rate. Prior personal therapeutic OA use was reported in 63% [95% CI, 58-68]. A majority of these providers (82%; 95% CI [77-87]) took fewer than half the number of pills prescribed. Regarding provider attitudes towards OA prescribing: 66% [95% CI, 61-71] agreed that OA could lead to addiction even with short-term use. When providers were asked if they would prescribe OA to a patient with 10/10 pain from an ankle sprain: 21% [95% CI, 17-25] would for an adult patient, 13% [95% CI, 10-16] would for an adult family member, and 6% [95% CI, 4-8] indicated they themselves would take an opioid for the same pain. When the scenario involved an ankle fracture: 86% [95% CI, 83-89] would prescribe OA for an adult patient, 75% [95% CI, 71-79] for an adult family member, and 52% [95% CI, 47-57] would themselves take OA. Providers who have personally used OA to treat their pain were consistently more likely to prescribe OA in different patient scenarios than those who had not.
ED providers who had themselves used OA therapeutically to treat their own pain tended to be more likely to prescribe OA than those who had not. When making OA prescribing decisions, ED providers report that they are less likely to prescribe opioids to their family members, or themselves, than to an ED patient with the same painful condition.