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Survey illustrates physicians' knowledge gap on opioid addiction

June 11, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Survey results released this week by the maker of the opioid addiction medication Suboxone offer some striking findings about many physicians’ lack of understanding of opioid addiction and its treatment.

Harris Interactive surveys of physicians and of adults ages 26 to 49, commissioned by Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, found that while the concept of addiction as a disease is more widely understood among physicians than among the general public, many doctors remain highly skeptical that they could positively influence the course of a patient’s addiction to heroin or prescription medication. Nearly 7 in 10 physicians said the vast majority of individuals battling opioid addiction will experience a relapse (the physician sample was derived from a group of doctors not federally certified to prescribe buprenorphine in office-based practice settings).

Moreover, when these doctors were asked why they had not pursued the certification required to prescribe buprenorphine, 78% said they considered the opioid-addicted population difficult to treat, and 61% said the paperwork and office time that would be needed to treat these patients would be overwhelming.

In perhaps their most telling comment in this area, more than half of the surveyed physicians (55%) said they were not willing to have their medical practice seen as an addiction practice.

Mark L. Kraus, MD, FASAM, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine, said in regard to the discrimination that opioid addicts face in society, “What is eye-opening about the survey is the realization that the treatment community has contributed to perpetuating it; there is a desperate need for doctors who are willing to treat opioid dependence as they would other chronic diseases.”

A news release about the survey from Reckitt cited several other findings that illustrated misconceptions about the widespread prevalence of opioid use and dependence. More than half of surveyed physicians (57%) said that they believed an individual’s having a low income could make the person more likely to become opioid-dependent, while 66% believed a low education level could lead to that result.

In all, 35% of physicians and 67% of adults said they did not believe they knew much about opioid dependence.

The online survey of more than 1,000 adults took place in January, with 200 primary care physicians taking the survey in March.