Underutilisation of opioids in elderly patients with chronic pain: approaches to correcting the problem

Drugs Aging. 2005;22(8):641-54. doi: 10.2165/00002512-200522080-00002.


The impact of poorly managed chronic pain on the quality of life of elderly patients and the problems related to its management are widely acknowledged. Underutilisation of opioids is a major component of poor pain management in this group of patients, despite good evidence for the effectiveness of opioids and published guidelines directing their usage. Reasons for this underutilisation are, among others, poor assessment of pain in this age group; fear of polypharmacy and opiophobia; and avoidance of opioids because of concerns about tolerance, physical dependence, addiction and adverse effects. This review suggests approaches to overcome these barriers to opioid usage, such as regular pain assessments, education to overcome opiophobia, rational prescribing, utilisation of less conventional opioids and non-oral routes of administration, avoidance of inappropriate opioids, opioid rotation, and education about managing or preventing adverse effects, the reasons why opioid therapy may be unsuccessful, and the effects of psychological factors on the pain experience. This more rational and knowledge-based approach to the use of opioids in the management of chronic pain in the elderly population should correct the current problems with underprescribing in this age group.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Drug Utilization*
  • Humans
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic


  • Analgesics, Opioid