Background: The use of prescription opioid drugs has the potential to lead to patient abuse of these medications, addiction, and diversion. Such an abuse is associated with increased costs because of excessive healthcare utilization. Finding ways to minimize the risk for abuse and addiction can enhance patient outcomes and reduce costs to patients and to payers.
Objective: To review current strategies that may reduce the risk for misuse and abuse of opioid medications, which in turn can enhance patient outcomes and lower costs to health insurers and patients.
Discussion: Implementing approaches that will encourage the use of safe practices (universal precautions) in pain management by providers can reduce the risk for abuse and misuse associated with chronic pain medications, especially opioids. These approaches include, but are not limited to, extensive physician and patient education regarding these medications and their associated risks for abuse; the development of prescription monitoring programs to detect physician or pharmacy shopping; the detection of inappropriate prescribing and medical errors; the use of physician-patient contracts concerning opioid treatment; the requirement of presenting a photo identification to pick up an opioid prescription at the pharmacy; urine drug toxicology screening; provisions for safe disposal of unused opioids; referrals to pain and addiction specialists; and potentially encouraging the use of opioid formulations aimed at reducing abuse.
Conclusion: Supporting such approaches by health insurers and educating providers and patients on the risks associated with chronic pain medications can help minimize the risk of prescription opioid abuse, addiction, and diversion; reduce health services utilization associated with opioid abuse; improve patient outcomes; and reduce overall costs.