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.