[Misuse and dependence on prescription opioids: Prevention, identification and treatment]

Rev Med Interne. 2017 Aug;38(8):539-546. doi: 10.1016/j.revmed.2016.12.024. Epub 2017 Feb 15.
[Article in French]


Since the 1990s, the use of prescription opioids has largely spread, which has brought a real progress in the treatment of pain. The long-term use of prescription opioid is sometimes required, and may lead to pharmacological tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, i.e. pharmacological dependence on prescription opioids. Occasionally, this may also lead to misuse of prescription opioids (MPO). MPO preferentially occurs in vulnerable individuals, i.e., those with a young age, history of other addictive or psychiatric disorders, especially anxious and depressive disorders. MPO is associated with numerous complications, including an increased risk of fatal overdose. Prevention of MPO begins before the opioid prescription, with the identification of potential vulnerability factors. A planned and personalized monitoring should be systematically implemented. In vulnerable patients, contractualizing the prescription is warranted. During follow-up, the relevance of the prescription should be regularly reconsidered, according to the benefit observed on pain and the potential underlying signs of MPO. Patients with suspected MPO should be referred early to pain or addiction centers. The treatment of MPO should be based on multidisciplinary strategies, involving both the addiction and pain aspects: progressive opioid withdrawal, non-pharmacological measures against pain, or switching to medication-assisted treatment of addiction (i.e., buprenorphine or methadone).

Keywords: Abus de médicaments sur ordonnance; Analgésiques morphiniques; Centres antidouleur; Chronic Pain; Douleur chronique; Identification; Opioid analgesics; Opioid substitution treatments; Opioid use disorders; Pain clinics; Prescription drug abuse; Prevention; Prévention; Repérage; Traitements de substitution aux opiacés; Troubles liés aux opiacés.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / prevention & control
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / therapy
  • Prescription Drug Misuse* / prevention & control
  • Prescription Drug Misuse* / statistics & numerical data


  • Analgesics, Opioid