Long-term, high-dose opioid prescription for chronic non-cancer pain in primary care

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Electronic versions



Background: Opioid prescriptions for chronic pain have risen sharply over the last 25 years; harms associated with these drugs are related to dose and length of use.
Aim: The main aim of this study was to identify patients prescribed long-term, high-dose (LTHD) opioids in the community and to assess the prevalence of such use.
Design & setting: An observational study of opioid prescribing in two demographically dissimilar GP practices in North Wales, UK.
Method: Details of opioid prescriptions were collected for 22 841 patients, of whom 1488 (6.5%) were being prescribed opioids on the census date. Exhaustive examination of the data identified all patients who were prescribed oral morphine equivalent doses of ≥120 mg/day for ≥1 year.
Results: All these patients were being prescribed ≥120 mg/day, as a single drug, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, or buprenorphine, irrespective of opioid polypharmacy. Across both practices, 1.71/1000 patients were identified as LTHD users of opioid medication for chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP). Prevalence was similar in the two practices. Repetition of the process until January 2021 showed no change in the pattern.
Conclusion: This study offers confirmation that a significant group of patients are prescribed long-term opioid medication for chronic pain at doses that are unlikely to be effective in reducing pain, but are likely to have harmful consequences. The findings offer a simple, reliable, and practical method of
data extraction to identify these patients individually from routinely collected prescribing data, which will help in monitoring and treating individuals and establishing the problem prevalence.


  • Opioid analgesics, chronic pain, Drug prescribing, primary care, General practice
Original languageEnglish
Article numberBJGPO.2021.0217.
Number of pages11
JournalBJGP open
Issue number4
Early online date21 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Total downloads

No data available
View graph of relations