Prescriber education interventions to optimize opioid prescribing in acute care: a systematic review

Ria E. Hopkins, Thuy Bui, Dianna Magliano, Carolyn Arnold, Michael Dooley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: Opioid medications are frequently used effectively for analgesia in acute settings, however, they are associated with dependence and addiction, and were implicated in 47,600 American fatalities in 2017. Evidence suggests that despite guidelines and professional body recommendations, acute prescribing remains highly variable. Educational interventions targeting prescribers have potential to optimize prescribing in-line with evidence-based best practice.
Objectives: To identify the objective impacts of education interventions on opioid prescribing in the acute care setting.

Study Design: A systematic literature review.

Setting: The electronic databases MEDLINE, Embase, and Cochrane for works published until December 31, 2018. Bibliographies of relevant studies and the gray literature were also searched.

Methods: Databases were searched for interventional studies (clinical trials and pre- and poststudies). Studies describing an educational intervention delivered to clinicians and reporting at least one objective measure of opioid use in the acute care setting were included. Studies reporting only subjective outcomes and those focused on chronic pain or set in primary care were excluded. Two reviewers (RH, TB) extracted data and assessed the quality of included studies using the Downs and Black Tool.

Results: Nine studies met inclusion criteria; all used pre- and post designs. Three studies described stand-alone education, and the others described multifaceted interventions. All 9 interventions significantly reduced at least one of the following: high-risk agent use including meperidine use by up to 71%; total or daily dosage of opioids at discharge, including median morphine milligram equivalence (MME) from 90 mg to 45 mg per patient; and quantity of medications such as oxycodone supplied to patients, halved in one study from 6,170 expected to 2,932 supplied tablets. No increase in pain complaints or prescription refill requests were reported in those studies assessing these outcomes. The longest study examined prescribing 15 months after education delivery, reporting sustained practice changes.
Limitations: Overall study quality was fair to poor. Significant heterogeneity in settings, patient groups, methodologies, and outcomes prevented pooled quantitative analysis. No studies examined all available opioid agents or formulations.

Conclusions: These findings support prescriber education as an effective strategy to reduce opioid use and optimize prescribing in acute settings. Further research, particularly high quality randomized studies, describing the impact of education on all available opioid formulations and total MME is required. Reviewing the existing literature has offered useful models that can be implemented to improve care with opioid prescribing in acute settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E551-E562
Number of pages12
JournalPain Physician
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Opioids
  • education
  • physician education
  • prescriber education
  • opioid education
  • opioid prescribing
  • systematic review
  • prescriptions
  • prevention

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