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J Palliat Med. 2010 May;13(5):501-4. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2009.0406.

Variation in pain medication use in end-of-life care.

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  • 1Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, Colorado 80045, USA.



Pain is a common and distressing symptom at the end of life that medications can help relieve. We sought to explore variation in approaches to pharmaceutical management of pain among hospice-eligible patients and to determine if variation was explained by patient or site of care characteristics. Variation in medication use may suggest areas for best practices or quality improvement in medication use in end-of-life care.


We conducted a secondary analysis of randomized trial data, examining use of five medication classes: opiates, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), adjuvant pain medications (tricyclics and antiseizure), stimulants, and antianxiety medications in 16 study sites nationwide. Descriptive statistics were generated for patient-level data and by site. Unadjusted and adjusted odds ratios were calculated to compare patient and location of care characteristics with each medication class use by site.


We found variation in medication use was not predicted by most patient characteristics or location of care (home versus facility). Use of all types of pain medications decreased with age (odds ratio [OR] 0.75 [0.63-0.90]). Medication use varied between sites: a range of 14%-83% of patients were on different types of opiates, 0%-40% on NSAIDS, 20%-69% on benzodiazepines, 0%-25% on adjuvant medications, and 0%-23% were on acetaminophen at any time during the data collection period.


Pain and adjuvant medication use differs widely by site of care. Further research is needed to determine the extent to which provider and patient choice contribute to prescribing variation, and to explore associations between patient symptoms, medication variation, and patient care quality.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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