Aberrant behaviors with prescription opioids and problem drug use history in a community-based cohort of HIV-infected individuals

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2011 Dec;42(6):893-902. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.02.026. Epub 2011 Jul 30.


Context: The treatment of pain in patients with substance use disorders creates tensions for clinicians between undertreating pain and enabling opioid analgesic misuse.

Objectives: To characterize prevalence and factors associated with aberrant opioid analgesic behaviors in a cohort of HIV-infected individuals who are at high risk for opioid analgesic misuse.

Methods: We assessed pain and substance use disorders in a cross-sectional study that enrolled 296 participants from the Research on Access to Care in the Homeless cohort, a community-based sample of indigent HIV-infected adults. We measured aberrant opioid behaviors, defined as major or minor depending on level of risk of harm to patients, using Audio Computer-Assisted Self-Interview technology.

Results: Most participants (91.2%) reported pain in the week before interview, with the majority of these experiencing severe pain (53.7%). More than two-thirds (69.2%) of the participants met criteria for a lifetime history of cocaine, amphetamine, or heroin/opioid use disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition). More than one-third of the sample (37.4%) had a history of aberrant opioid behavior within 90 days of interview. One-fifth (18.5%) had a history of "major" aberrant behaviors.

Conclusion: In this high-risk population, severe pain is common and aberrant opioid behaviors are prevalent but not universal. As recommended by American Pain Society and American Academy of Pain Medicine guidelines, when prescribing opioid analgesics, clinicians must consider variation in the severity of aberrant behaviors, particularly aberrant behaviors that may represent undertreatment of pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Behavior
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Residence Characteristics
  • San Francisco
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Prescription Drugs