A drug use evaluation of selected opioid and nonopioid analgesics in the nursing facility setting

G W Cramer, B S Galer, M A Mendelson, G D Thompson
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 2000, 48 (4): 398-404

OBJECTIVES: To determine the medical conditions for which selected analgesics are most frequently prescribed in nursing facilities (NFs), describe the use of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic pain therapies, and determine the frequency and quality of pain assessment in NF residents.

DESIGN: A multicenter, 3-month retrospective drug use evaluation conducted by consultant pharmacists.

SETTING: Eighty-nine NFs having no more than 25% of their patient census representing special populations (e.g., head trauma).

PARTICIPANTS: A total of 2065 adult NF residents who received at least one selected analgesic.

MEASUREMENTS: Primary indication for analgesics, pain type, method of pain assessment, nonpharmacologic therapies for pain, prescribed analgesics and regimens, and comorbid conditions were recorded.

RESULTS: A total of 54.3% of residents had one indication for analgesic therapy, 31.0% had two indications, and 14.7% had three or more indications. Arthritis was the most prevalent indication for analgesics (41.7% of residents), followed by bone fracture (12.4%) and other musculoskeletal conditions (9.7%). More residents (76.8%) were reported to have chronic pain than acute pain (19.9%), and 3.0% had both chronic and acute pain. Pain type was unknown for 0.2% of residents. Observational pain assessments were used more frequently (for 55.9% of residents) than objective methods (16.6%), and pain was not assessed in 40.6% of residents. Most residents (69.4%) received no nonpharmacologic treatment for pain. Of the 2542 opioid and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) prescriptions, 67.6% were for opioids, 24.8% were for NSAIDs, and 7.6% were for tramadol. Propoxyphene-containing drugs were the most frequently prescribed opioid group, and propoxyphene with acetaminophen was the most frequently prescribed analgesic (35.6% of all analgesics). Most analgesics (63.2%) were prescribed on an as-needed (prn) basis.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings show a lack of adequate pain assessments, little use of nonpharmacologic interventions, and inappropriate use of analgesic medication. The small percentage of residents with chronic pain assessed objectively suggests the difficulty of monitoring pain progression in NFs. The prescribing of analgesic for most residents (with propoxyphene used most often, long-acting opioids used infrequently, and frequent prn use) was inconsistent with recommended pain therapy in older people and attests to the urgent need to educate NF practitioners on the appropriate use of analgesics.


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