Objectives: Opioid analgesic drugs are sometimes advocated for chronic noncancer pain (CNCP). However, due to the paucity of studies assessing problematic opioid drug use in this population, evidence for such is inconclusive, and this issue remains controversial. This survey assessed problematic drug use among CNCP patients.
Patients/setting: Patients (N=104) prescribed opioids (mean duration of treatment 14.1 months) for severe CNCP at a pain clinic within a National Health Service hospital in London, United Kingdom.
Design: A review of pain clinic records to identify CNCP patients who had been prescribed opioids and subsequent assessment of those patients for problematic drug use using a substance use questionnaire.
Results: A total of 90 (86.5%) patients reported stopping opioid therapy at some point and, of these, 59 (65%) had ceased opioid therapy permanently. Of those patients who stopped opioids, 13 reported opioid withdrawal symptoms, two with severe and two with very severe symptoms. However, 72.5% of all patients derived benefit from opioids, although 77% of all patients reported opioid side effects. The addiction rate was 2.8%.
Conclusion: These findings indicate that opioid therapy for CNCP does not necessarily lead to problematic drug use. Some problematic side effects are likely to be surmountable through appropriate prescribing. Further research is required into the long-term use of opioids in CNCP.