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Objectives: To examine the effect of the debate on the safety of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) on decision making by Australian general practitioners and patients with osteoarthritis (OA), and to explore issues concerning the use of NSAIDs from both prescriber and consumer perspectives. Design and setting: A qualitative study in which five focus groups (three for GPs, and two for patients with OA) were conducted between 15 May and 4 August 2006 in south-western Sydney. Participants: Five advanced general practice registrars, six experienced GPs, and 20 patients with OA aged 54-85 years. Main outcome measures: Key themes and issues identified by content analysis of focus group transcripts. Results: GPs reported adopting a cautious approach to prescribing NSAIDs because of uncertainty about safety and medicolegal concerns. They were sceptical about information provided by the pharmaceutical industry and found the literature about the safety of NSAIDs confusing. Time was identified as a major barrier to adequate discussion with patients, and explaining the risk to patients in a meaningful way was perceived as a challenge. Patients wanted information and sought it from a range of sources, most commonly pharmacists and GPs. Most patients made active decisions about using or not using NSAIDs, with some favouring physical function over safety. Patients were also using other forms of treatment including alternative medicine. Conclusion: Our findings reflect the need to provide clear, unbiased information about NSAIDs to help both GPs and patients negotiate this decision-making dilemma.