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Long-term opioid therapy, aberrant behaviors, and substance misuse: Comparison of patients treated by resident and attending physicians in a general medical clinic

Jessica L. Colburn, MD, Donald R. Jasinski, MD, Darius A. Rastegar, MD


Objective: To compare rates of opioid prescribing, aberrant behaviors, and indicators of substance misuse in patients prescribed long-term opioids by resident physicians or attending physicians in a general internal medicine practice.

Design: Medical records of 333 patients who were prescribed opioids for at least three consecutive months were reviewed. Aberrant behaviors over a 2-year period were documented, including reporting lost or stolen medications or receiving opioids from more than one provider. Indicators of substance misuse were also recorded, including positive urine drug testing for illicit substances, addiction treatment, overdose, and altering prescriptions.

Results: An estimated 13.6 percent of the patients followed by residents had been prescribed opioids for three or more months; this was significantly higher than the rate for attendings (5.9 percent, p < 0.001). Patients followed by residents were more likely to have reported lost or stolen prescriptions or medication (25.7 percent vs 12.2 percent, p = 0.03) or to have received opioids from another provider (17.8 percent vs 7.6 percent, p = 0.008); they were also more likely to exhibit an indicator of substance misuse (24.8 percent vs 7.6 percent, p < 0.001). However, in multivariate analyses, aberrant behaviors and indicators of substance misuse were not significantly associated with having a resident physician.

Conclusions: Resident physicians at our institution are following a disproportionate number of patients on long-term opioids, many of whom exhibit aberrant behaviors and indicators of substance misuse. This underscores a need for better resident training and supervision to provide effective and safe care for patients with chronic pain.


opioid-related disorders, graduate medical education

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