Objective: To assess Wisconsin pharmacists' knowledge of and attitudes toward the use of opioid analgesics in the management of chronic cancer and noncancer pain, and to explore the potential for these beliefs to interfere with pharmacist dispensing, the last link of the distribution chain of controlled substances to patients.
Design: Mail survey.
Setting: Urban and rural pharmacies, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and outpatient clinics in Wisconsin in 1998.
Patients or other participants: Representative sample of Wisconsin pharmacists.
Main outcome measures: Responses to self-administered questionnaires.
Results: Although most respondents were knowledgeable about the issues addressed in this study, there were important exceptions. Not all pharmacists knew what constitutes legitimate dispensing practices for controlled substances under federal or state policy in emergencies or for patients with terminal illnesses, and many were unaware of the important distinctions among addiction, physical dependence, and tolerance. Many respondents did not view the chronic prescribing/dispensing of opioids for more than several months to patients with chronic pain of malignant or nonmalignant origin as a lawful and acceptable medical practice; this was especially true when the patient had a history of opioid abuse.
Conclusion: Pharmacists play a pivotal role in ensuring patient access to medications. Viewed in the context of federal and state controlled substances policies, our findings suggest that the incorrect knowledge and inappropriate attitudes of some pharmacists could contribute to a failure to dispense valid prescriptions for opioid analgesics to patients in pain.