Little is known about patients prescribed high doses of opioids to treat chronic non-cancer pain, though these patients may be at higher risk for medication-related complications. We describe the prevalence of high-dose opioid use and associated demographic and clinical characteristics among veterans treated in a VA regional healthcare network. Veterans with chronic non-cancer pain prescribed high doses of opioids (≥ 180 mg/day morphine equivalent; n=478) for 90+ consecutive days were compared to two groups with chronic pain: Traditional-dose (5-179 mg/day; n=500) or no opioid (n=500). High-dose opioid use occurred in 2.4% of all chronic pain patients and in 8.2% of all chronic pain patients prescribed opioids long-term. The average dose in the high-dose group was 324.9 (SD=285.1)mg/day. The only significant demographic difference among groups was race (p=0.03) with black veterans less likely to receive high doses. High-dose patients were more likely to have four or more pain diagnoses and the highest rates of medical, psychiatric, and substance use disorders. After controlling for demographic factors and VA facility, neuropathy, low back pain, and nicotine dependence diagnoses were associated with increased likelihood of high-dose prescriptions. High-dose patients frequently did not receive care consistent with treatment guidelines: there was frequent use of short-acting opioids, urine drug screens were administered to only 25.7% of patients in the prior year, and 32.0% received concurrent benzodiazepine prescriptions, which may increase risk for overdose and death. Further study is needed to identify better predictors of high-dose usage, as well as the efficacy and safety of such dosing.
Published by Elsevier B.V.