Educating junior doctors and pharmacists to reduce discharge prescribing of opioids for surgical patients: a cluster randomised controlled trial

Ria E. Hopkins, Thuy Bui, Alex H. Konstantatos, Carolyn Arnold, Dianna J. Magliano, Danny Liew, Michael J. Dooley

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: To evaluate whether educating junior doctors and hospital pharmacists about analgesic prescribing improved discharge prescribing of opioids for opioid-naïve patients after surgical admissions. 

Design: Cluster randomised controlled trial, undertaken during the first half of 2019. 

Setting: The Alfred Hospital, a major Melbourne teaching hospital with 13 surgical units. 

Participants: Opioid-naïve patients discharged from surgical units after a stay of at least 24 hours. 

Intervention: Surgical units were randomised to the intervention or control arms. Interns, residents, and clinical pharmacists assigned to intervention arm units attended education sessions, presented by the hospital analgesic stewardship pharmacist, about appropriate analgesic prescribing for patients in hospital surgical units. Main outcome measures: The patients prescribed slow release opioids on discharge from hospital during the baseline (1 February – 30 April 2018) and post-intervention periods (17 February – 30 April 2019). 

Results: During the baseline period, 1369 intervention unit and 1014 control unit admissions were included in our analysis; during the evaluation period, 973 intervention unit and 706 control unit episodes were included. After adjusting for age, length of stay, pain score, acute pain service involvement, and use of immediate release opioids prior to admission, patients in the intervention group were prescribed slow release opioids at discharge less frequently than patients in the control group (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 0.52; 95% CI, 0.35–0.77) and were more frequently discharged without any prescribed opioids following the intervention (aOR, 1.69; 95% CI, 1.24–2.30). Providing de-escalation plans was more frequent for intervention than control group patients prescribed slow release opioids on discharge post-intervention (OR, 2.36; 95% CI, 1.25–4.45). 

Conclusions: Specific education for clinicians and pharmacists about appropriate analgesic prescribing for surgical patients is effective in reducing prescribing of opioids at discharge. 

Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, ACTRN12618000876291 (prospective).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-423
Number of pages7
JournalThe Medical Journal of Australia
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Acute pain
  • Analgesics, opioid
  • Education, medical, continuing
  • Prescribing

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