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Abuse Liability in Opioid Therapy for Pain Treatment in Patients With an Addiction History

Weaver, Michael M.D.*; Schnoll, Sidney M.D., Ph.D.

Section Editor(s): Jamison, Robert N. Ph.D.


Patients may present to physicians with complaints of acute or chronic pain. Some of these patients will have a history of addiction to drugs or alcohol, and a few will have active addiction. Controlled-substance prescriptions, especially opioid pain medications, can be very beneficial for treatment of pain in patients. There are clear differences between physical dependence on medication, active addiction, addiction in remission, and pseudoaddiction. A search of the medical literature revealed different rates of addiction in patients with chronic pain because different criteria were used to define addiction and the types of chronic pain. It appears that rates of addiction in patient populations with chronic pain are no different than rates of addiction in the general population, according to some recent studies. "Drug-seeking behavior" may be seen with either active addiction or pseudoaddiction. A way to distinguish between these conditions is by giving the patient more pain medication and observing the patient's pattern of behavior. Some patients may be at higher risk to abuse prescription opioids, and some types of drug-seeking behavior may be more predictive of active addiction than pseudoaddiction. General guidelines can improve physicians' comfort level in prescribing opioids for patients with chronic pain, even those with a history of addiction. These include using a medication agreement or contract, setting appropriate goals with the patient, giving appropriate amounts of pain medication, monitoring with drug screens and pill counts, and documenting the case carefully. Even patients with a history of addiction can benefit from opioid pain medications if the patients are monitored appropriately.

*Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia; andPurdue Pharma, L.P., Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.A.

Publication of this supplement was supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Purdue Pharma L.P.

Please address correspondence and reprint requests to Michael Weaver, M.D., Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, P. O. Box 980109, Richmond, VA 23298-0109, U.S.A.; e-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.