Background: Patients with chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP) have high rates of substance use disorders (SUD). SUD complicates pain treatment and may lead to worse outcomes. However, little information is available describing adherence to opioid treatment guidelines for CNCP generally, or guideline adherence for patients with comorbid SUD.
Objective: Examine adherence to clinical guidelines for opioid therapy over 12 months, comparing patients with SUD diagnoses made during the prior year to patients without SUD.
Design: Cohort study.
Participants: Administrative data were collected from veterans with CNCP receiving treatment within a Veterans Affairs regional healthcare network who were prescribed chronic opioid therapy in 2008 (n = 5814).
Key results: Twenty percent of CNCP patients prescribed chronic opioid therapy had a prior-year diagnosis of SUD. Patients with SUD were more likely to have pain diagnoses and psychiatric comorbidities. In adjusted analyses, patients with SUD were more likely than those without SUD to have had a mental health appointment (29.7% versus 17.2%, OR = 1.49, 95% CI = 1.26-1.77) and a urine drug screen (UDS) (47.0% versus 18.2%, OR = 3.53, 95% CI = 3.06-4.06) over 12 months. There were no significant differences between groups on receiving more intensive treatment in primary care (63.4% versus 61.0%), long-acting opioids (26.9% versus 26.0%), prescriptions for antidepressants (88.2% versus 85.8%, among patients with depression), or participating in physical therapy (30.6% versus 28.6%). Only 35% of patients with SUD received substance abuse treatment.
Conclusions: CNCP patients with SUD were more likely to have mental health appointments and receive UDS monitoring, but not more likely to participate in other aspects of pain care compared to those without SUD. Given data suggesting patients with comorbid SUD may need more intensive treatment to achieve improvements in pain-related function, SUD patients may be at high risk for poor outcomes.