Development of prescribing indicators related to opioid-related harm in patients with chronic pain in primary care—a modified e-Delphi study

Neetu Bansal*, Stephen M. Campbell, Chiu Yi Lin, Darren M. Ashcroft, Li Chia Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Long-term opioid use is associated with dependency, addiction, and serious adverse events. Although a framework to reduce inappropriate opioid prescribing exists, there is no consensus on prescribing indicators for preventable opioid-related problems in patients with chronic pain in primary care in the UK. This study aimed to identify opioid prescription scenarios for developing indicators for prescribing opioids to patients with chronic pain in primary care. Methods: Scenarios of opioid prescribing indicators were identified from a literature review, guidelines, and government reports. Twenty-one indicators were identified and presented in various opioid scenarios concerning opioid-related harm and adverse effects, drug-drug interactions, and drug-disease interactions in certain disease conditions. After receiving ethics approval, two rounds of electronic Delphi panel technique surveys were conducted with 24 expert panellists from the UK (clinicians, pharmacists, and independent prescribers) from August 2020 to February 2021. Each indicator was rated on a 1–9 scale from inappropriate to appropriate. The score’s median, 30th and 70th percentiles, and disagreement index were calculated. Results: The panel unanimously agreed that 15 out of the 21 opioid prescribing scenarios were inappropriate, primarily due to their potential for causing harm to patients. This consensus was reflected in the low appropriateness scores (median ranging from 1 to 3). There were no scenarios with a high consensus that prescribing was appropriate. The indicators were considered inappropriate due to drug-disease interactions (n = 8), drug-drug interactions (n = 2), adverse effects (n = 3), and prescribed dose and duration (n = 2). Examples included prescribing opioids during pregnancy, concurrently with benzodiazepines, long-term without a laxative prescription and prescribing > 120-mg morphine milligram equivalent per day or long-term duration over 3 months after surgery. Conclusions: The high agreement on opioid prescribing indicators indicates that these potentially hazardous consequences are relevant and concerning to healthcare practitioners. Future research is needed to evaluate the feasibility and implementation of these indicators within primary care settings. This research will provide valuable insights and evidence to support opioid prescribing and deprescribing strategies. Moreover, the findings will be crucial in informing primary care practitioners and shaping quality outcome frameworks and other initiatives to enhance the safety and quality of care in primary care settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronic pain
  • Opioid-related harms
  • Prescribing quality indicators
  • Preventable medication problems
  • Primary care


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