Primary care physicians’ perspectives on the prescription opioid epidemic

Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, Susan H. Busch, Emma E. McGinty, Marcus A. Bachhuber, Jeff Niederdeppe, Sarah E. Gollust, Daniel W. Webster, David A. Fiellin, Colleen L. Barry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Background Prescription opioid use disorder and overdose have risen substantially in the U.S. Primary care physicians are critical to many ongoing and proposed efforts to address the prescription opioid epidemic. Yet, little is known about their attitudes and beliefs surrounding this issue. This study aimed to determine primary care physicians’ perceptions of the seriousness of the problem, its causes, groups responsible for addressing it, attitudes toward individuals with prescription opioid use disorder, beliefs about the effectiveness of addiction treatments, and support for various policies. Methods We conducted a national web-based survey in 2014 among 1010 primary care physicians. We gauged responses to attitude and belief items on 7-point Likert scales. We examined the proportion agreeing with each statement, and whether responses differed among physicians prescribing higher and lower volumes of opioids. Results Respondents largely attributed the causes of prescription opioid use disorder to individual-oriented factors and certain physician-oriented factors, and believed that individuals with prescription opioid use disorder and physicians were primarily responsible for addressing the problem. Negative attitudes toward people with prescription opioid use disorder were prevalent, but a majority believed that treatment could be effective. There was majority support for all measured policies, with the highest levels of support for policies to monitor prescribing among patients potentially at risk for an opioid use disorder and to improve physician education and training. Conclusions Given strong endorsement of recommended policies, physician support could be leveraged to advance efforts to curb prescription opioid use disorder and overdose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-70
Number of pages10
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA R01 DA026414) and an unrestricted research grant from AIG, Inc. (114061). The funders had no role in the study design, analysis, interpretation, or preparation of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ireland Ltd


  • Analgesics
  • Opioid-related disorders
  • Opioids
  • Physicians
  • Primary care
  • Substance-related disorders


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