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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2004 Sep;28(3):250-8.

Predicting aberrant drug behavior in patients treated for chronic pain: importance of abuse history.

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Pain Management Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Physicians can encounter problems in prescribing opioids for some patients with chronic pain such as multiple unsanctioned dose escalations, episodes of lost or stolen prescriptions, and positive urine drug screenings for illicit substances. This study explored the usefulness of questions on abuse history in predicting problems with prescribing opioids for patients at a hospital-based pain management program. One hundred forty-five (145) patients who were taking long- and short-acting opioids for their pain were classified as high or low risk on the basis of their responses to interview questions about 1) substance abuse history in their family, 2) past problems with drug or alcohol abuse, and 3) history of legal problems. The treating physicians completed a questionnaire about problems that they had encountered with their patients. Problem behaviors were verified through chart review. No differences in demographic characteristics were found between those classified as high and low risk. Patients who admitted to a family history of substance abuse, a history of legal problems, and drug or alcohol abuse were prone to more aberrant drug-related behaviors, including a higher incidence of lost or stolen prescriptions and the presence of illicit substances in their urine (P < 0.05). Patients classified as high risk also had a significantly higher frequency of reported mental health problems and motor vehicle accidents. More of these patients smoked cigarettes, tended to need a cigarette within the first hour of the day, took higher doses of opioids, and reported fewer adverse effects from the medications than did those without such a history (P < 0.05). This study demonstrates that questions about abuse history and legal problems can be useful in predicting aberrant drug-related behavior with opioid use in persons with chronic noncancer pain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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