BALTIMORE, June 23 (UPI) -- Many doctors over-prescribe opioid painkillers because they don't understand how the drugs are abused or how addictive different formulations may be, which is contributing to the epidemic abuse of them.
Researchers found in a survey that one-third of doctors did not know the most popular method of abusing opioids was swallowing whole pills. Almost half thought that abuse-deterrent versions of the pills that can't be crushed and snorted or injected were less addictive that the regular pills.
"Physicians and patients may mistakenly view these medicines as safe in one form and dangerous in another, but these products are addictive no matter how you take them," said G. Caleb Alexander, M.D., M.S., an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School's Department of Epidemiology and co-director of the school's Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, in a press release. "If doctors and patients fail to understand this, they may believe opioids are safer than is actually the case and prescribe them more readily than they should."
The survey of 1,000 practicing internists, family physicians, and general practitioners in the United States was done between February and May 2014. Of those who participated, roughly one-third were not aware that the most popular way to abuse opioids was to take whole pills. Other surveys have found that, depending on the drug and population surveyed, between 64 and 97 percent of people swallowed whole pills, and it generally is the most popular method ahead of snorting or injecting the drugs.
Just under half of all doctors, 46 percent, thought that versions of pills that can't be crushed, preventing them from being snorted or injected, were less addictive.
"Our findings highlight the importance of patient and provider education regarding what abuse-deterrent products can and cannot do," Alexander said. "When it comes to the opioid epidemic, we must be cautious about overreliance on technological fixes for what is first and foremost a problem of overprescribing."
The survey is published in The Clinical Journal of Pain.