Overdose Education and Naloxone for Patients Prescribed Opioids in Primary Care: A Qualitative Study of Primary Care Staff

J Gen Intern Med. 2015 Dec;30(12):1837-44. doi: 10.1007/s11606-015-3394-3.


Background: The rate of fatal unintentional pharmaceutical opioid poisonings has increased substantially since the late 1990s. Naloxone is an effective opioid antidote that can be prescribed to patients for bystander use in the event of an overdose. Primary care clinics represent settings in which large populations of patients prescribed opioids could be reached for overdose education and naloxone prescription.

Objective: Our aim was to investigate the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about overdose education and naloxone prescription among clinical staff in primary care.

Design: This was a qualitative study using focus groups to elucidate both clinic-level and provider-level barriers and facilitators.

Setting: Ten primary care internal medicine, family medicine and infectious disease/HIV practices in three large Colorado health systems.

Methods: A focus group guide was developed based on behavioral theory. Focus group transcripts were coded for manifest and latent meaning, and analyzed for themes using a recursive approach that included inductive and deductive analysis.

Results: Themes emerged in four content areas related to overdose education and naloxone prescription: knowledge, barriers, benefits and facilitators. Clinical staff (N = 56) demonstrated substantial knowledge gaps about naloxone and its use in outpatient settings. They expressed uncertainty about who to prescribe naloxone to, and identified a range of logistical barriers to its use in practice. Staff also described fears about offending patients and concerns about increased risk behaviors in patients prescribed naloxone. When considering naloxone, some providers reflected critically and with discomfort on their own opioid prescribing. These barriers were balanced by beliefs that prescribing naloxone could prevent death and result in safer opioid use behaviors.

Limitations: Findings from these qualitative focus groups may not be generalizable to other settings.

Conclusion: In addition to evidence gaps, logistical and attitudinal barriers will need to be addressed to enhance uptake of overdose education and naloxone prescription for patients prescribed opioids for pain.

Keywords: HIV; naloxone; opioids; overdose; primary care; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / poisoning*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Colorado
  • Drug Overdose / drug therapy*
  • Drug Overdose / etiology
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Naloxone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Physicians, Primary Care / psychology
  • Primary Health Care / methods
  • Qualitative Research


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Naloxone