Opioid treatment of chronic pain in patients with addiction

J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother. 2002;16(3):5-26. doi: 10.1080/j354v16n03_02.


Patients with a history of drug or alcohol addiction may present to physicians with pain complaints. The medical literature is weak on the treatment of pain with opioids in patients in recovery or active addiction. This is because inconsistent criteria were used to define addiction and the types of chronic pain. There are clear differences between physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction. Addiction is different from pseudoaddiction and must be determined by the patient's behavior after appropriate pain management. Long-acting opioids are often the medications of choice for moderate to severe pain control. Short-acting opioids can be used for breakthrough pain. There are many other medications that can enhance pain control as adjunctive analgesics. Drug-seeking behavior may be seen with either active addiction or pseudoaddiction, or as part of deviant behavior such as drug diversion. A way to distinguish between these conditions is by giving the patient appropriate pain medication and observing the pattern of behavior to determine which is causing the drug-seeking behavior. Safe prescribing of medications with abuse potential includes use of a medication agreement, setting goals with the patient, giving appropriate amounts of pain medication, monitoring with pill counts and drug screens, and careful documentation. Even patients with a history of addiction can benefit from opioid pain medications if monitored appropriately.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Behavior, Addictive
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / complications
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Pain, Intractable / complications
  • Pain, Intractable / prevention & control*


  • Analgesics, Opioid