Predicting opioid misuse by chronic pain patients: a systematic review and literature synthesis

Dennis C Turk, Kimberly S Swanson, Robert J Gatchel
Clinical Journal of Pain 2008, 24 (6): 497-508

BACKGROUND: Opioids can provide relief for people with chronic pain. However, a minority may develop aberrant drug behaviors. A critical issue is identifying "at-risk" patients.

OBJECTIVE: To synthesize the evidence of published strategies for identifying at-risk patients to guide clinicians' decisions and practices for prescribing opioid treatment for chronic pain patients (CPP).

DATA SOURCES: MEDLINE database search from 1966 to March 20, 2007, searching the bibliographies from all retrieved articles, and articles available in the authors' files. Studies were limited to human studies in the English language related to screening for predictors of aberrant drug behaviors in CPP who were prescribed long-term opioids. We included studies reviewing, developing measures, or investigating outcomes related to screening for aberrant opioid behaviors in CPP.

RESULTS: We identified 6 published articles addressing clinician-based predictors of substance misuse of opioids and 9 published studies evaluating the predictive ability of clinical interviews and self-report measures for aberrant opioid behaviors in CPP. Several attempts have been made to develop procedures to identify at-risk patients including urine toxicology screening, structured interviews, observation, and self-report questionnaires. In general, the psychometric properties of the published questionnaires and interview protocols are weak; moreover, the samples included in the studies are often small and unrepresentative. Thus, none of them can be recommended for use with any confidence.

CONCLUSION: Review of the published studies reveals that no one procedure or set of predictor variables is sufficient to identify CPP at-risk for opioid misuse or abuse. There is a scarcity of evidence regarding characteristics that predict aberrant behavior before beginning long-term opioids. Several predictors have been identified. Strong predictors include a personal history of illicit drug and alcohol abuse. Demographic factors have also been reported, but the results are not consistent. Prospective studies, especially ones with CPP who have not already been started on chronic opioid therapy, are needed.

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