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Medical professionals' perspectives on prescribed and over-the-counter medicines containing codeine: a cross-sectional study
  1. Michelle Foley1,
  2. Tara Carney2,
  3. Eileen Rich2,
  4. Charles Parry2,
  5. Marie-Claire Van Hout1,
  6. Paolo Deluca3
  1. 1School of Health Sciences, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland
  2. 2Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa
  3. 3Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michelle Foley; mfoley{at}


Objectives To explore prescribing practitioners' perspectives on prescribed codeine use, their ability to identify dependence and their options for treatment in the UK.

Design Cross-sectional design using a questionnaire containing closed-ended and open-ended items.

Setting A nationally representative sample of prescribing professionals working in the UK.

Participants 300 prescribing professionals working in primary care and pain settings.

Results Participants stated that they regularly reviewed patients prescribed codeine, understood the risks of dependence and recognised the potential for codeine to be used recreationally. Over half the participants felt patients were unaware of the adverse health consequences of high doses of combination codeine medicines. One-quarter of participants experienced patient resentment when asking about medicines containing codeine. Just under 40% of participants agreed that it was difficult to identify problematic use of codeine without being informed by the patient and did not feel confident in identification of codeine dependence. Less than 45% of all participants agreed that codeine dependence could be managed effectively in general practice. Slow or gradual withdrawal was the most popular suggested treatment in managing dependence. Education and counselling was also emphasised in managing codeine-dependent patients in primary care.

Conclusions Communication with patients should involve assessment of patient understanding of their medication, including the risk of dependence. There is a need to develop extra supports for professionals including patient screening tools for identifying codeine dependence. The support structure for managing codeine-dependent patients in primary care requires further examination.

  • Codeine
  • over the counter
  • dependence

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