Withdrawal and Misuse Concerns of Consumers regarding Opioid Analgesic and Anxiolytic, Hypnotic and Sedative Medicines

Treasure M. McGuire, Kudrat Sidhu, Mieke L. van Driel, Samantha A. Hollingworth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: Opioid analgesic (OA) and anxiolytic, hypnotic and sedative (AHS) medicines use raise community concerns about risks of dependence: dose escalation, unintentional misuse. 

Objectives: We aimed to identify common consumer OA and AHS information gaps and concerns that led to information seeking from a hotline. 

Methods: We conducted a retrospective, mixed-method observational study of consumers’ OA and AHS-related calls to an Australian national medicines call center (September 2002-30 June 2010). We analyzed these medicines’ call characteristics compared to their respective rest of calls (ROC) and thematically explored narratives concerning withdrawal and misuse. 

Results: Of 123,217 calls, 7,395 (6.0%) involved OA and 7,789 (6.2%) AHS, with consistency between call characteristics. While female middle-aged callers predominated, more males called for these medicines than their complementary ROC. Uncertainty about unresolved OA and AHS concerns led to help-seeking that was consistent over eight years. Main motivations were inadequate information (OA 44.5%; AHS 41.2%), seeking a second opinion (OA 24.2%; AHS 24.2%), worrying symptoms (OA 21.6%; AHS 23.1%), and conflicting information (OA 4.9%; AHS 5.1%). Callers focused on withdrawal and issues related to inadvertent overuse or deliberate misuse (OA 9.2% vs. non-OA ROC 2.9%; AHS 12.6% vs. non-AHS ROC 2.7%). Primary themes were similar for both cohorts: concern about harm or aiming to minimize harm by information seeking, requesting a strategy, or reassurance. 

Conclusions: Consumers have under-recognized perceptions of harm from OA and AHS use, particularly withdrawal and misuse. Resources based on real world consumer concerns can encourage open dialogue between patients and their prescribers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1980-1992
Number of pages13
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number12
Early online date2 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


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