[Patterns of prescription of opioid analgesics in Hôtel-Dieu de France of Beyrouth]

Encephale. 2016 Dec;42(6):511-516. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2016.05.010. Epub 2016 Oct 21.
[Article in French]


Objectives: Use of chronic opioid therapy has increased substantially over the past few years, even though opioid therapy is associated with potentially serious harms, including opioid-related adverse effects and outcomes. Prescription of opioids for chronic pain, particularly nonmalignant chronic pain, remains controversial. In the midst of this controversy, patterns of actual prescription and influences on these patterns are not well understood. This study aims to describe the frequency of prescription of opioid analgesics in a university hospital, the attitudes of doctors towards this category of drugs, and the follow-up modalities of patients taking these drugs. The study also explores the association between the practitioners' characteristics and the modalities of prescription.

Design and methods: A survey was delivered to 112 doctors and surgeons in the hospital during the four months between August and December 2013 and it was returned by 55 (49.0%). The survey consists of three parts. The first part addresses the frequency and reluctance of doctors' prescription of opioids and other analgesics for acute and chronic pain. The second part studies the doctors' attitudes and concerns towards opioids. It explores the belief of the doctors in the efficacy of this category of drugs, their confidence in prescribing such medications and the eventual side effects they might worry about. The third part of the survey studies the modalities of evaluation prior to the prescription and the modalities of follow-up of the patients receiving a long-term opioid treatment.

Results: Overall, 76.4% of doctors reported they sometimes, frequently, or always, prescribe opioids, which, using the Wilcoxon test, proved to be a significantly lower frequency than for prescribing of minor analgesics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Similarly, 60.1% reported a reluctance to prescribe opioids for chronic nonmalignant pain, which was a significantly greater reluctance than for cancer pain. The age and sex of the participants were unrelated to prescribing, but those with specialty training and use of practice guidelines were more likely to prescribe opioids and were less reluctant to do so. A majority of practitioners felt that opioids are effective for the treatment of chronic nonmalignant pain and that they have the sufficient training to prescribe them adequately; however, they still worry about the long-term prescription of opioids, particularly fearing the psychological dependence this treatment might cause. Using a series of Spearman correlation tests, we found that practitioners who thought they were adequately trained and who believed in the efficacy of long-term opioid treatment were more likely to prescribe them but that the worries about side effects decreased the frequency of prescription. A significant proportion of practitioners do not evaluate addiction risk factors of patients before prescribing opioids. The results concerning the modalities of follow-up of prescription were very heterogeneous with 87% of practitioners not explaining and 65% not screening for adverse effects. We similarly found that the frequency of follow-up and the management of patients who were exhibiting signs of dependence were very diverse.

Conclusion: The results of this study were compatible with those of other recent studies about opioid prescription. The doctors practicing in the university hospital Hôtel-Dieu de France de Beyrouth present comparable prescription patterns, independent of their personal or professional characteristics, and they are more confident in their prescription when professionally trained for it. However, they exhibit a notable heterogeneity in their attitudes towards opioids and in their modalities of evaluating patients receiving long-term treatment. These results suggest a need for additional training in the management of this category of drugs.

Keywords: Addiction; Analgesics; Analgésiques; Chronic pain; Douleur chronique; Dépendance; Modalités de prescription; Opiacés; Opioids; Prescribing practices.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • France
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opioid-Related Disorders
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Physicians
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Analgesics, Opioid