Vaso-occlusive pain crises are the hallmark of sickle cell disease (SCD) and the primary reason for health care utilization. Both national and international guidelines recommend aggressive intravenous opioids, intravenous fluids and anti-inflammatory therapy as the mainstay of treatment for acute SCD pain. However, many vaso-occlusive crises are managed at home with oral medication and supportive care. There are no guidelines on home medication management of SCD-related pain, likely due to the lack of well-defined endpoints for acute events and the lack of funding for already approved pain medications. Amplifying this issue is the growing concern for opioid abuse and misuse in the United States (US) and internationally. This study aimed to evaluate differences in opioid prescribing practices among providers treating SCD in the US and internationally. A survey was disseminated electronically to known providers using a combination of purposive and snowball sampling strategy. There were 127 responses and 17 countries represented. US providers were more likely to prescribe opioids (p < 0.001) and were more likely to be “very comfortable” prescribing opioids than non-US prescribers (p < 0.001). US providers also tended to prescribe more tablets per patient of stronger opioids than non-US physicians. US physicians were more likely to be concerned that patients were abusing opioids than non-US physicians (32% vs. 27%, p < 0.05). There are significant variations in how different parts of the world manage pain in the outpatient setting for SCD. Identifying optimal home pain management strategies is necessary to improve care and long-term outcomes in SCD.
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