Parents' preferences strongly influence their decisions to withhold prescribed opioids when faced with analgesic trade-off dilemmas for children: a prospective observational study

Int J Nurs Stud. 2015 Aug;52(8):1343-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2015.05.003. Epub 2015 May 11.


Background: Despite parents' stated desire to treat pain in their children, recent studies have critiqued their underuse of prescribed analgesics to treat pain in their children after painful procedures. Parents' analgesic preferences, including their perceived importance of providing pain relief or avoiding adverse drug effects may have important implications for their analgesic decisions, yet no studies have evaluated the influence of preferences on decisions to withhold prescribed opioids for children.

Objectives: We prospectively explored how parents' preferences influenced decisions to withhold prescribed opioids when faced with hypothetical dilemmas and after hospital discharge.

Design: Prospective Observational Study Design: Phase 1 included hypothetical analgesic decisions and Phase 2, real analgesic decisions after hospital discharge.

Setting: Large tertiary care pediatric hospital in the Midwest of the United States.

Participants: Five-hundred seven parents whose children underwent a painful surgical procedure requiring an opioid prescription were included.

Methods: At baseline, parents completed surveys assessing their pain relief preference (i.e., their rated importance of pain relief relative to adverse drug event avoidance), preferred treatment thresholds (i.e., pain level at which they would give an opioid), adverse drug event understanding, and hypothetical trade-off decisions (i.e., scenarios presenting variable pain and adverse drug event symptoms in a child). After discharge, parents recorded all analgesics they gave their child as well as pain scores at the time of administration.

Results: Higher preference to provide pain relief (over avoid analgesic risk) lessened the likelihood that parents would withhold the prescribed opioid when adverse drug event symptoms were present together with high pain scores in the hypothetical scenarios. Additionally, higher preferred treatment thresholds increased the likelihood of parents withholding opioids during their hypothetical decision-making as well as at home. The strong influence of these preferences weakened the effect of opioid ADE understanding on decisions to withhold opioids when ADEs (i.e., nausea/vomiting or oversedation) were present together with high pain.

Conclusions: Findings from this study suggest that preferences strongly influence and may interfere with parents' effective and safe analgesic decision-making when conflicting symptoms (i.e., high pain and an ADE) are present. To improve effective analgesic use, there is a need to shape parents' preferences and improve their understanding of safe actions that will treat pain when ADE symptoms are present.

Keywords: Analgesic decisions; Children; Opioid safety; Parents’ analgesic preferences.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Midwestern United States
  • Pain Management
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / adverse effects*


  • Analgesics, Opioid