Cancer pain management and the opioid crisis in America: How to preserve hard-earned gains in improving the quality of cancer pain management

Judith A Paice
Cancer 2018 June 15, 124 (12): 2491-2497
Cancer pain remains a feared consequence of the disease and its treatment. Although prevalent, cancer pain can usually be managed through the skillful application of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic interventions. Unfortunately, access to these therapies has been hampered by interventions designed to contain another serious public health problem: the opioid misuse epidemic. This epidemic and the unintended consequences of efforts to control this outbreak are leading to significant barriers to the provision of cancer pain relief. Oncologists and other professionals treating those with cancer pain will require new knowledge and tools to provide safe and effective pain control while preventing additional cases of substance use disorders (SUDs), helping patients in recovery to maintain sobriety, and guiding those not yet in recovery to seek treatment. How do these 2 serious epidemics intersect and affect oncology practice? First, oncology professionals will need to adopt practices to prevent SUDs by assessing risk and providing safe pain care. Second, oncology practices are likely to see an increased number of patients with a current or past SUD, including opioid misuse. Few guidelines exist for the direct management of pain when opioids may be indicated in these individuals. Third, modified prescribing practices along with the education of patients and families are warranted to prevent the exposure of these medications to unintended persons. Finally, advocacy on behalf of those with cancer pain is imperative to avoid losing access to essential therapies, including opioids, for those who might benefit. Cancer 2018;124:2491-7. © 2018 American Cancer Society.


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