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Little referral to treatment from pain physicians, survey finds

March 28, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Less than half of physicians who see evidence of opioid abuse or drug-seeking in a patient routinely refer that patient to treatment services, states a National Safety Council survey that also found opioid prescribing to be well in excess of recommended guidelines.

The survey, results of which were released March 24, found that while 99% of responding doctors have seen pill-seeking behavior or evidence of opioid abuse, only 38% usually refer these individuals to treatment. Also, while 84% of respondents screen patients for prior opioid abuse problems, only 32% said they also inquire about a family history of addiction.

Nearly all of the responding physicians said they prescribe opioids for periods longer than the three days recommended in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. About one-quarter said they prescribe around a month's supply.

A majority of physicians also prescribe opioids for chronic back pain, despite a lack of evidence of the drugs' effectiveness for that purpose, the survey found.

“Doctors are well-intentioned and want to help their patients, but these findings are further proof that we need more education and training if we want to treat pain most effectively,” Donald Teater, MD, medical adviser at the National Safety Council, said in a news release.

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