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Research Letters |

Nonmedical Use of Opioid Analgesics Obtained Directly From Physicians: Prevalence and Correlates FREE

William C. Becker, MD; Daniel G. Tobin, MD; David A. Fiellin, MD
[+] Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.


Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(11):1034-1036. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.217.
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In light of significant risks associated with opioid use, physicians are encouraged to monitor patients to whom they prescribe them.1,2 Guidelines have endorsed physician-initiated treatment agreements and urine drug testing,3 despite equivocal efficacy.4 Nonmedical use of opioids has increased in conjunction with opioid prescribing and is associated with addiction, overdose, and death. To understand the impact physicians can have on nonmedical use of opioids, studies that examine the sources of these opioids are needed. This study investigates the source of opioids used nonmedically, the features of patients who obtain these opioids from physicians, and the extent to which nonphysician sources are used.

Data Source and Study Population

We used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population. We restricted our analysis to those 18 years and older and combined survey data from 2006 through 2008.

Study Variables

Respondents who indicated that they had “used [an opioid analgesic] that was not prescribed for you or that you took only for the experience or feeling it caused” in the past month were asked for the source(s) of the opioids. We divided sources into 2 groups: (1) “physician,” which included the responses “single physician” or “2 or more physicians,” and (2) “nonphysician,” which included the responses “free from friends or family,” “purchase from friends or family,” “purchase from a dealer,” “purchase from the Internet,” “prescription forgery,” “theft from friends or family,” “theft from physician offices,” and “theft from a pharmacy.” Respondents were classified into (1) having a physician source, including those who indicated a physician source with or without also indicating a nonphysician source and (2) having only nonphysician sources.

Age, sex, race/ethnicity, income, education, employment, and marital status were included as covariates. Data on lifetime and current (past year) substance use and dependence were obtained via self-report.5 Three binary substance use disorder variables were created: past-year alcohol abuse or dependence; past-year opioid analgesic abuse or dependence; and past-year other substance (stimulants, hallucinogens, heroin, inhalants, marijuana, and/or sedatives) abuse or dependence. The Kessler 6 inventory was used to measure psychological distress.6 Overall health was based on the question, “Would you say your health in general is excellent, very good, good, fair or poor?”

Statistical Analysis

We evaluated multivariable associations between independent variables and the binary dependent variable (having a physician source of opioid analgesics) using logistic regression. We then restricted the sample to those respondents with a physician source of opioids and performed frequencies of nonphysician sources. We used SAS version 9.1 (SAS Institute Inc, Cary, North Carolina) and SUDAAN version 9.0.1 (Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina) to account for the sampling methods and nonresponse, using sample weights that normalized data to annual census distributions.

From 166 453 respondents, 3238 were 18 years or older, reported nonmedical use of opioids, and indicated an opioid source. Of the 3238 respondents, 855 (30.7%, percentage adjusted for sampling strategy) reported having a physician source of opioids.

On multivariable analysis (Table), age 50 years and older (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 2.5; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.4-4.5) and past-year opioid analgesic abuse and/or dependence (AOR 2.0; 95% CI, 1.5-2.7) were associated with having a physician source of opioids. Past-year abuse and/or dependence on other substances was associated with having only nonphysician sources (AOR, 0.6; 95% CI, 0.4-0.9).

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable. Patient Characteristics and Unadjusted and Adjusted Odds of Having a Physician Source for Nonmedically Used Opioids

Among those with a physician source, 465 of 855 (64.0%, percentage adjusted for sampling strategy) had no nonphysician source (eFigure), and of the full study sample, 20% reported physician sources only. Of the respondents with a physician source, 36% also had at least 1 source involving friends or family.

In this large community sample, we found that 31% of respondents with nonmedical use of opioids reported obtaining these medications directly from a physician, and 20% reported obtaining opioid analgesics exclusively from physicians. This suggests that public health efforts to mitigate nonmedical opioid use that occurs outside the sphere of the physician-patient relationship (eg, medication sharing, dealer purchase, theft) may result in substantial benefits. Furthermore, physicians need to be cognizant of the risks not only to patients to whom they prescribe opioids, but also to those with whom the prescription recipient lives or associates. While younger individuals are more likely to nonmedically use opioids,7,8 our findings reveal that older age is a risk factor for obtaining nonmedically used opioids from a physician. This is partly because older patients visit physicians more frequently9 and are more often seen for pain issues.10 Our data suggest a continued need for physician and public health efforts to curb the increase in nonmedical use of opioids.

Correspondence: Dr Becker, Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, PO Box 208056, 333 Cedar St, New Haven, CT 06520-8056 (william.becker@yale.edu).

Author Contributions: Dr Becker had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Study concept and design: Becker and Fiellin. Acquisition of data: Becker. Analysis and interpretation of data: Becker, Tobin, and Fiellin. Drafting of the manuscript: Becker and Fiellin. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Becker, Tobin, and Fiellin. Statistical analysis: Becker. Administrative, technical, and material support: Becker. Study supervision: Fiellin.

Financial Disclosure: Dr Fiellin serves on an expert advisory board to monitor for misuse, abuse, and diversion of buprenorphine for Pinney Associates.

Funding/Support: Dr Fiellin's grant support includes RO1 DA020576, RO1 DA019511, and R01 DA025991 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Role of the Sponsor: The National Institute on Drug Abuse had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

Previous Presentation: The study was presented at a plenary session of the Society of General Internal Medicine 33rd Annual Meeting; May 1, 2010; Minneapolis, Minnesota.

McLellan  ATTurner  B Prescription opioids, overdose deaths, and physician responsibility. JAMA 2008;300 (22) 2672- 2673
PubMed
Compton  WMVolkow  ND Major increases in opioid analgesic abuse in the United States: concerns and strategies. Drug Alcohol Depend 2006;81 (2) 103- 107
PubMed
Chou  RFanciullo  GJFine  PG  et al. American Pain Society-American Academy of Pain Medicine Opioids Guidelines Panel, Clinical guidelines for the use of chronic opioid therapy in chronic noncancer pain. J Pain 2009;10 (2) 113- 130
PubMed
Starrels  JLBecker  WCAlford  DPKapoor  AWilliams  ARTurner  BJ Systematic review: treatment agreements and urine drug testing to reduce opioid misuse in patients with chronic pain. Ann Intern Med 2010;152 (11) 712- 720
PubMed
American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. 4th ed. Washington, DC American Psychiatric Association1994;
Kessler  RCAndrews  GColpe  LJ  et al.  Short screening scales to monitor population prevalences and trends in non-specific psychological distress. Psychol Med 2002;32 (6) 959- 976
PubMed
Becker  WCSullivan  LETetrault  JMDesai  RAFiellin  DA Non-medical use, abuse and dependence on prescription opioids among U.S. adults: psychiatric, medical and substance use correlates. Drug Alcohol Depend 2008;94 (1-3) 38- 47
PubMed
Huang  BDawson  DAStinson  FS  et al.  Prevalence, correlates, and comorbidity of nonmedical prescription drug use and drug use disorders in the United States: Results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. J Clin Psychiatry 2006;67 (7) 1062- 1073
PubMed
Cherry  DLucas  CDecker  SL Population Aging and the Use of Office-Based Physician Services: NCHS Data Brief, No. 41.  Hyattsville, MD National Center for Health Statistics2010;
Caudill-Slosberg  MASchwartz  LMWoloshin  S Office visits and analgesic prescriptions for musculoskeletal pain in US: 1980 vs. 2000. Pain 2004;109 (3) 514- 519
PubMed

Figures

Tables

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable. Patient Characteristics and Unadjusted and Adjusted Odds of Having a Physician Source for Nonmedically Used Opioids

References

McLellan  ATTurner  B Prescription opioids, overdose deaths, and physician responsibility. JAMA 2008;300 (22) 2672- 2673
PubMed
Compton  WMVolkow  ND Major increases in opioid analgesic abuse in the United States: concerns and strategies. Drug Alcohol Depend 2006;81 (2) 103- 107
PubMed
Chou  RFanciullo  GJFine  PG  et al. American Pain Society-American Academy of Pain Medicine Opioids Guidelines Panel, Clinical guidelines for the use of chronic opioid therapy in chronic noncancer pain. J Pain 2009;10 (2) 113- 130
PubMed
Starrels  JLBecker  WCAlford  DPKapoor  AWilliams  ARTurner  BJ Systematic review: treatment agreements and urine drug testing to reduce opioid misuse in patients with chronic pain. Ann Intern Med 2010;152 (11) 712- 720
PubMed
American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. 4th ed. Washington, DC American Psychiatric Association1994;
Kessler  RCAndrews  GColpe  LJ  et al.  Short screening scales to monitor population prevalences and trends in non-specific psychological distress. Psychol Med 2002;32 (6) 959- 976
PubMed
Becker  WCSullivan  LETetrault  JMDesai  RAFiellin  DA Non-medical use, abuse and dependence on prescription opioids among U.S. adults: psychiatric, medical and substance use correlates. Drug Alcohol Depend 2008;94 (1-3) 38- 47
PubMed
Huang  BDawson  DAStinson  FS  et al.  Prevalence, correlates, and comorbidity of nonmedical prescription drug use and drug use disorders in the United States: Results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. J Clin Psychiatry 2006;67 (7) 1062- 1073
PubMed
Cherry  DLucas  CDecker  SL Population Aging and the Use of Office-Based Physician Services: NCHS Data Brief, No. 41.  Hyattsville, MD National Center for Health Statistics2010;
Caudill-Slosberg  MASchwartz  LMWoloshin  S Office visits and analgesic prescriptions for musculoskeletal pain in US: 1980 vs. 2000. Pain 2004;109 (3) 514- 519
PubMed

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