Opioid de-prescribing toolkit launched

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have published an online toolkit to help prescribers reduce chronic opioid use in patients with non-cancer pain.

Evidence is growing of the harm caused by long-term opioid prescribing for chronic non-cancer pain. | GETTY IMAGES
Evidence is growing of the harm caused by long-term opioid prescribing for chronic non-cancer pain. | GETTY IMAGES

The new toolkit outlines seven areas of best practice to tackle chronic opioid use, including the need for guidance on drug tapering and the provision of comprehensive patient information.

It comes as figures for England and Wales show a 10-year increase in opioid prescriptions of more than 60%, from 14 million in 2008 to 23 million in 2018.

Based on their review of 56 peer-reviewed studies and 21 pieces of literature, the UEA researchers concluded that ‘there needs to be a clear expectation that opioid de-prescribing is the responsibility of prescribers’. But they warned that GPs need to be better equipped with information and training to tackle the crisis.

Psychological challenges

Lead researcher Dr Debi Bhattacharya, from UEA’s School of Pharmacy, said: ‘GPs and other health professionals need to urgently, proactively work with patients prescribed long-term opioids for non-cancer pain to gradually reduce or "taper" their doses. But if GPs are expected to initiate discussions about tapering or stopping opioids, they must be equipped with training to manage the psychological challenges experienced by patients when trying to reduce their opioid use.’

Dr Bhattacharya added: ‘Without this training, prescribers are reticent to open a "can of worms" that they know they don't have the skills to manage. For opioid tapering interventions to be effective, GPs need training in giving their patients the skills to manage any withdrawal effects.’

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