Eight principles for safer opioid prescribing and cautions with benzodiazepines

Postgrad Med. 2015 Jan;127(1):27-32. doi: 10.1080/00325481.2015.993276. Epub 2014 Dec 15.


The provision of long-term opioid analgesic therapy for chronic pain requires a careful risk/benefit analysis followed by clinical safety measures to identify and reduce misuse, abuse, and addiction and their associated morbidity and mortality. Multiple data sources show that benzodiazepines, prescribed for comorbid insomnia, anxiety, and mood disorders, heighten the risk of respiratory depression and other adverse outcomes when combined with opioid therapy. Evidence is presented for hazards associated with coadministration of opioids and benzodiazepines and the need for caution when initiating opioid therapy for chronic pain. Clinical recommendations follow, as drawn from 2 previously published literature reviews, one of which proffers 8 principles for safer opioid prescribing; the other review presents risks associated with benzodiazepines, suggests alternatives for co-prescribing benzodiazepines and opioids, and outlines recommendations regarding co-prescribing if alternative therapies are ineffective.

Keywords: benzodiazepines; chronic pain; drug overdose; mortality; opioid analgesics; therapeutic use.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Benzodiazepines / administration & dosage
  • Benzodiazepines / adverse effects
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / prevention & control
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Risk


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Benzodiazepines