Patient guide in move to reduce opioid harm

With pharmaceutical opioids linked to daily deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, a patient education guide has been launched.

The guide, released this week by the NPS MedicineWise ‘Choosing Wisely Australia’ (CWA) initiative, is part of a national effort to help reduce the number of Australians experiencing harm from pharmaceutical opioids.

To raise awareness about opioids, their use for short-term pain, their side effects and the risks of dependence, hospital staff will be encouraged to give the two-page patient guide on managing pain and opioid medicines to people prescribed opioids as inpatients, or on discharge.

The guide, developed in consultation with the Queensland Clinical Senate with testing supported by the Queensland Opioid Stewardship Program and the Society of Hospital Pharmacists (SHPA), has three key elements to support people who are prescribed opioids:

  • Five questions people are encouraged to ask their health professional before leaving hospital with opioids. The questions are modelled on CWA’s ‘5 questions to ask your doctor’ resource to guide better conversations with health professionals about tests, treatments and procedures.
  • Tips for taking and storing opioids at home.
  • A personal pain management plan that should be developed in conjunction with a health professional.

“With statistics showing three lives are lost, 150 people are hospitalised and 14 people present to emergency departments every day due to harm caused by pharmaceutical opioids, we need to ensure more information is available to people at the point these medicines are prescribed,” NPS MedicineWise CEO Associate Professor Steve Morris said.

“This is the first time in Australia the Choosing Wisely ‘5 questions’ model has been used to drive conversations about a specific treatment in a format that can be distributed in hospitals, in primary care and accessed directly by consumers and carers.

“Ultimately, we hope to see this practical guide provided to everyone who is prescribed an opioid medicine in Australia.”

Queensland Clinical Senate Chair and emergency physician Dr Alex Markwell said education is critical in keeping patients safe while giving them choices.

“We need to support and empower our patients and healthcare providers to discuss what care is needed based on what matters to the patient and their family,” he said.

“This patient guide on opioid medicines is a really important step in enabling this to happen.”

SHPA CEO Kristin Michaels said many Australians leave hospital with more opioids than they need, which can lead to preventable harm.

“SHPA’s landmark 2018 ‘Reducing opioid-related harm’ report revealed opioid de-escalation plans at hospital discharge are rare, and supplying opioids for patients to take home ‘just in case’ is still common practice,” she said.

That report highlighted the need for patient-centred tools for self-assessment and management of pain and the need for consumer health organisations to educate patients on managing pain expectations.

The release of new opioids resources coincides with a new NPS MedicineWise national education program, ‘Opioids, chronic pain and the bigger picture’, which is aimed at equipping health professionals and consumers with tools and resources to reduce the harms of opioids, while ensuring adequate pain management and quality of life for people with chronic non-cancer pain.

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