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  • Principal Investigator: Teng-Chou Chen
  • 1 November 2021 to 31 May 2022
  • Project No: 518
  • Funding round: FR1

Chronic pain affects many people, reduces daily activity and is related to poor quality of life. Opioids are strong painkillers and are often used for acute pain relief, such as surgical pain. However, there has been a marked increase in strong opioid use for chronic pain relief over the last decade in the UK. Public Health England has recently led a review of opioid prescribing finding that increasing opioid use has been paralleled by increases in opioid-related harm, and the safety of opioids has become a public health concern.

Our research team have recently developed 20 safety indicators that may be used to identify potentially unsafe opioid prescribing. Each indicator is a scenario reflecting day-to-day clinical care to patients with chronic pain treated in general practices. To ensure these indicators are appropriate to be included in the computer system, we need to know how often unsuitable opioid prescribing happens, who are most likely to be exposed to these potential risks, and how this differs between general practices.

To address these aims, we will use a large database of electronic health records from general practices across the UK. For each indicator, we will determine the proportion of patients who match the scenario of the unsafe prescribing indicator. In addition, we will examine the difference of this proportion between practices and explore patient characteristics associating with potentially unsafe opioid prescribing.

We hope those opioid safety prescribing indicators can be included in the existing computer system to reduce the occurrence of ill-suited opioid prescribing. This study's results can help us understand whether it is feasible to implement those indicators in the computer system. Besides, the results will be disseminated to the academic community and wider society and hence we can raise patients’ and physicians' awareness about how common inappropriate opioid prescribing can be in daily practice.


Darren Ashcroft


Amount awarded: £49,984

Projects by themes

We have grouped projects under the five SPCR themes in this document

Evidence synthesis working group

The collaboration will be conducting 18 high impact systematic reviews, under four workstreams.