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  • NSW trial slashes ED opioids for back pain

    Author: AAP

The stresses of NSW emergency departments are prompting medical professionals to prescribe addictive opioids for acute back pain when other treatments are more suitable, a new study has shown.

The University of Sydney-led trial involved almost 4500 patients at four NSW hospitals - three in greater Sydney and one in Dubbo.

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It involved training about 300 medical professionals in assessing and treating patients with acute back pain without prescribing opioid medication.

The clinicians in the trial provided alternative treatments such as non-opioid medication, heat wraps and referring patients to physiotherapy.

Researchers found that across the four hospitals, there was a 12 per cent decrease in opioid use to treat cases of acute back pain.


Occupational Therapist
SA Health, Limestone Coast Local Health Network
Occupational Therapist - Senior
Charters Towers Health Service

This occurred with no increase in pain levels or drop in patient satisfaction.

Lead study author Gustavo Machado said in a statement that opioids were often prescribed as a quick, short-term fix but then become addictive.

"Emergency departments are incredibly busy places and there is a huge pressure on clinicians to treat people as quickly as possible," Dr Machado said.

"Our trial has demonstrated that there is a safer way to treat acute back pain that can easily be adopted by hospitals across the country."

At Canterbury Hospital in Sydney's southwest alone, there was a reduction of up to 24 per cent in opioid prescriptions issued to patients.

Canterbury Hospital medical services director Eileen Rogan said the trial demonstrated a better way to alleviate acute back pain.

"Our physicians and nurses embraced this trial because they could see the positive results almost immediately," Dr Rogan said in a statement.

"Patients were happy - they were receiving better care in the emergency department, getting follow-up care if needed and there was an important drop in the amount of opioid painkillers used."


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