Exploring physicians' comfort level with opioids for chronic noncancer pain

Pain Res Manag. 2004 Winter;9(4):195-201. doi: 10.1155/2004/290250.


Objective: To explore the attitudes of family physicians (FPs) toward the use of opioids in the management of chronic noncancer pain (CNCP) in the Calgary Health Region (CHR), Calgary, Alberta.

Methods: From January to February 2003, random samples of 147 FPs (32 were used to pretest the instrument and were therefore excluded from the findings) and 142 specialists practicing in the CHR were invited to participate in a 20 min survey to explore aspects of CNCP management in the CHR. Physicians' comfort in prescribing opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for CNCP was measured on a four-point ordinal scale. The specialists' subgroup served as a quasi-control group. In addition, a short version of the survey was provided for those physicians who declined to fully partake in the study. This allowed the researchers to compare important characteristics between respondents and nonrespondents.

Results: A total of 125 physicians (63 FPs and 62 specialists) participated in the study. The overall response rate was 48.6% and response rates for FPs and specialists were 54.8% and 43.7%, respectively. Response rates for the long version of the survey were 42.6% for FPs (n=49), 31.6% for other specialists (n=45) and 36.6% for both combined. The majority of FPs and specialists (98% and 71.1%, respectively) reported that 'they can handle' nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Tylenol No 3 with Codeine (Janssen-Ortho/McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Canada) (95.9% and 64.4%, respectively), morphine/MS Contin (Purdue Pharma, Canada) (61.2% and 24.4%, respectively) and Percocet (Bristol-Myers Squibb, Canada)/OxyContin (Purdue Pharma, Canada) (61.2% and 33.3%, respectively). Fewer FPs and specialists report that 'they can handle' Dilaudid (Abbott Laboratories, Canada)/Hydromorph Contin (Purdue Pharma, Canada) (36.7% and 13.3%, respectively), fentanyl patch (30.6% and 11.1%, respectively) and methadone (0% and 6.7%, respectively). Male FPs reported a greater degree of comfort than female FPs regarding morphine/MS Contin, Percocet/OxyContin and Dilaudid/ Hydromorph Contin (Mann-Whitney U tested at alpha <or=0.05). No sex differences were detected among specialists. No relationship was detected between comfort and years of practice or number of chronic pain patients in practice. Among specialists, a weak positive relationship was detected between the degree of comfort with methadone (Spearman's rank correlation coefficient=0.35, alpha=0.03) and the significance of pain management in the practice. Except for methodone, the FPs reported a higher confidence with the drugs in question compared with specialists (alpha <or=0.05).

Conclusions: FPs in the CHR need to increase their comfort level toward opioids in general to adequately manage CNCP. Their lack of comfort may reflect a lack of education or fear of regulatory scrutiny.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alberta
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Family Practice
  • Humans
  • Medicine
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Specialization


  • Analgesics, Opioid