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Can J Psychiatry. 2008 Aug;53(8):496-508.

Assessment and management of chronic pain in individuals seeking treatment for opioid dependence disorder.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.



To review the problem of chronic pain in patients with substance use disorders, focusing on the prevalence of chronic pain in patients with substance dependence disorders, especially prescription opioid dependence, associated comorbidities, and the impact on drug abuse treatment response.


We identified relevant articles using PubMed from 1987 to 2008. Additional articles were obtained from the reference lists of key reviews of relevant topics. Studies were included if they investigated the relation between chronic pain and substance use disorders. Of particular interest were articles that proposed integrated treatment for both problems.


The high prevalence of chronic pain syndromes was only recently explored in patients seeking treatment for drug abuse. The presence of chronic pain increases the risk of poor response to substance abuse treatment and an increased likelihood of multiple comorbidities that further add to the negative impact experienced by patients with substance dependence disorders. Substance abuse treatment programs offering integrated medical and psychiatric care for these comorbidities improve outcomes, with stepped care approaches offering the best treatment by tailoring the level of care to the individual patient's needs.


Substance abuse treatment programs should expand their services to address the comorbidities likely to pose barriers to successful drug rehabilitation. Given the high prevalence and negative impact of chronic pain, new pain management services should be integrated within the drug treatment program and adapted as patients demonstrate the need for more intensive treatment. If applied to the problem of chronic pain, a model substance abuse treatment program of integrated stepped care would improve outcomes for patients with both devastating disorders.

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