Background: We hoped to determine the attitudes and practices of primary care physicians regarding the use of opioids to treat chronic nonmalignant pain (CNMP). We also examined the factors associated with the willingness to prescribe opioids for CNMP.
Methods: A survey was mailed to primary care physicians in the University of California, San Francisco/Stanford Collaborative Research Network. This survey contained questions regarding treatment in response to 3 case vignettes, the use of opioids for CNMP in general, and the demographic characteristics of the physicians.
Results: Among 230 physicians surveyed, 161 (70%) responded. Two percent of the respondents were never willing to prescribe schedule III opioids (eg, acetaminophen with codeine) as needed for patients with CNMP that persisted unchanged after exhaustive evaluation and attempts at treatment. Thirty-five percent were never willing to prescribe schedule II opioids (eg, sustained-release morphine) on an around-the-clock schedule for these patients. The most significant predictor of willingness to prescribe opioids for patients with CNMP was a lower level of concern about physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction.
Conclusions: Primary care physicians are willing to prescribe schedule III opioids as needed, but many are unwilling to use schedule II opioids around the clock for CNMP. Individual prescribing practices vary widely among primary care physicians. Concerns about physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction are barriers to the prescription of opioids by primary care physicians for patients with CNMP.