Opioid Overdose History, Risk Behaviors, and Knowledge in Patients Taking Prescribed Opioids for Chronic Pain

Pain Med. 2017 Aug 1;18(8):1505-1515. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnw228.


Objective: More than 100 million adults in the United States experience chronic pain, and prescription opioids are the third most widely prescribed class of medications. Current opioid overdose prevention efforts almost exclusively target illicit opioid users, and little is known about the experience of overdose among patients being treated for chronic pain (CP) with a prescription opioid.

Methods: Patients experiencing CP for three or more months and receiving a prescription opioid for pain management (N = 502) completed a self-report survey that asked questions about opioid overdose history, past 30-day risk factors, and knowledge of opioid overdose, overdose risk, and naloxone.

Results: Approximately one in five CP participants reported experiencing a lifetime overdose. CP participants reported engaging in several behaviors associated with overdose risk and were unlikely to have been trained to administer naloxone. Fewer than 50% of participants answered any knowledge item correctly. The likelihood of having experienced an overdose increased as the scores on the SOAPP-R and DSM-5 opioid use disorder checklist increased, and a SOAPP-R score of 7 or higher or meeting DSM-5 mild opioid use disorder criteria were significantly associated with reporting a lifetime overdose (85% and 84% of participants who experienced an overdose, respectively).

Conclusions: Opioid overdose occurs at a high rate among CP participants, and this group is relatively uninformed about risk factors for overdose. Established SOAPP-R and DSM thresholds provide an opportunity to identify participants at elevated risk for having experienced an opioid overdose. These data support development of additional concentrated efforts to prevent overdose among chronic pain patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Drug Overdose / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid