Canadian guideline for safe and effective use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain: clinical summary for family physicians. Part 2: special populations

Can Fam Physician. 2011 Nov;57(11):1269-76, e419-28.
[Article in English, French]


Objective: To provide family physicians with a practical clinical summary of opioid prescribing for specific populations based on recommendations from the Canadian Guideline for Safe and Effective Use of Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain.

Quality of evidence: Researchers for the guideline conducted a systematic review of the literature, focusing on reviews of the effectiveness and safety of opioids in specific populations.

Main message: Family physicians can minimize the risks of overdose, sedation, misuse, and addiction through the use of strategies tailored to the age and health status of patients. For patients at high risk of addiction, opioids should be reserved for well-defined nociceptive or neuropathic pain conditions that have not responded to first-line treatments. Opioids should be titrated slowly, with frequent dispensing and close monitoring for signs of misuse. Suspected opioid addiction is managed with structured opioid therapy, methadone or buprenorphine treatment, or abstinence-based treatment. Patients with mood and anxiety disorders tend to have a blunted analgesic response to opioids, are at higher risk of misuse, and are often taking sedating drugs that interact adversely with opioids. Precautions similar to those for other high-risk patients should be employed. The opioid should be tapered if the patient's pain remains severe despite an adequate trial of opioid therapy. In the elderly, sedation, falls, and overdose can be minimized through lower initial doses, slower titration, benzodiazepine tapering, and careful patient education. For pregnant women taking daily opioid therapy, the opioids should be slowly tapered and discontinued. If this is not possible, they should be tapered to the lowest effective dose. Opioid-dependent pregnant women should receive methadone treatment. Adolescents are at high risk of opioid overdose, misuse, and addiction. Patients with adolescents living at home should store their opioid medication safely. Adolescents rarely require long-term opioid therapy.

Conclusion: Family physicians must take into consideration the patient's age, psychiatric status, level of risk of addiction, and other factors when prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Anxiety Disorders / complications
  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy
  • Canada
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / adverse effects
  • Mood Disorders / complications
  • Mood Disorders / drug therapy
  • Neuralgia / drug therapy
  • Nociceptive Pain / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / chemically induced*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives