Long-term opioid contract use for chronic pain management in primary care practice. A five year experience

J Gen Intern Med. 2007 Apr;22(4):485-90. doi: 10.1007/s11606-006-0084-1.


Background: The use of opioid medications to manage chronic pain is complex and challenging, especially in primary care settings. Medication contracts are increasingly being used to monitor patient adherence, but little is known about the long-term outcomes of such contracts.

Objective: To describe the long-term outcomes of a medication contract agreement for patients receiving opioid medications in a primary care setting.

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Subjects: All patients placed on a contract for opioid medication between 1998 and 2003 in an academic General Internal Medicine teaching clinic.

Measurements: Demographics, diagnoses, opiates prescribed, urine drug screens, and reasons for contract cancellation were recorded. The association of physician contract cancellation with patient factors and medication types were examined using the Chi-square test and multivariate logistic regression.

Results: A total of 330 patients constituting 4% of the clinic population were placed on contracts during the study period. Seventy percent were on indigent care programs. The majority had low back pain (38%) or fibromyalgia (23%). Contracts were discontinued in 37%. Only 17% were cancelled for substance abuse and noncompliance. Twenty percent discontinued contract voluntarily. Urine toxicology screens were obtained in 42% of patients of whom 38% were positive for illicit substances.

Conclusions: Over 60% of patients adhered to the contract agreement for opioids with a median follow-up of 22.5 months. Our experience provides insight into establishing a systematic approach to opioid administration and monitoring in primary care practices. A more structured drug testing strategy is needed to identify nonadherent patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers / methods
  • Academic Medical Centers / trends
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cohort Studies
  • Contracts* / trends
  • Disease Management
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Primary Health Care* / methods
  • Primary Health Care* / trends
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time


  • Analgesics, Opioid