Palliative care of the terminally ill drug addict

Cancer Invest. 2006 Jun-Jul;24(4):425-31. doi: 10.1080/07357900600705565.


Palliative care with terminally ill drug addicts is a major challenge for medical professionals to face. With growing problems of prescription drug abuse in this country, the problem is only going to continue to grow and be faced more often. To date, very little has been done focusing on this special population of end-of-life care patients. This review article attempts to explore the terminology and definitions for identifying addiction in the terminally ill as well as exploring management options for healthcare professionals. As with other opioid treated pain patients, relying on terms such as "physiological dependence" and "tolerance" is inappropriate for use in this population, who are likely to have been on opioids for extended periods of time requiring dose escalation for progressive disease. Thus, these terms have little utility for identifying problem patients. Rather, understanding the context of the drug abuse as it reflects on the concepts of use despite harm and the damage inflicted to the physical, psychological, or social make-up of the patient is necessary. Recommendations include careful monitoring and assessment of patients, utilizing multidisciplinary team approaches, encouraging participation in recovery programs, and utilization of pill counts and urine toxicology screenings as necessary. Implications for the field are discussed.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / etiology
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / complications
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Terminally Ill* / psychology