Depression and Ambivalence Toward Chronic Opioid Therapy for Chronic Noncancer Pain : The Clinical Journal of Pain

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Depression and Ambivalence Toward Chronic Opioid Therapy for Chronic Noncancer Pain

Howe, Catherine Q. MD, PhD*; Sullivan, Mark D. MD, PhD*; Saunders, Kathleen W. JD; Merrill, Joseph O. MD, MPH; Banta-Green, Caleb J. MSW, MPH, PhD§; Weisner, Constance DrPH∥,¶; Campbell, Cynthia I. PhD, MPH; Von Korff, Michael ScD

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The Clinical Journal oF Pain 28(7):p 561-566, September 2012. | DOI: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31823ade59



Chronic opioid therapy (COT) for chronic noncancer pain (CNCP) is characterized by both high rates of patient-initiated discontinuation and by perceived helpfulness among those who sustain opioid use. This study examines predictors of the desire to cut down or stop opioid therapy among patients receiving COT who report that opioids are helpful for relieving pain.


We conducted a cross-sectional survey of 1737 selected patients receiving COT for CNCP who perceived opioids to be helpful in relieving their pain. Ambivalence about opioid use was assessed by agreement/disagreement with a statement indicating that they would like to stop or cut down the use of prescribed opioid medications. Depression was measured with the 8-item Patient Health Questionnaire.


A high percentage (43.3%) of survey respondents who found opioids helpful also reported the desire to stop or cut down opioids. Half of these patients reporting the desire to stop or cut down were clinically depressed, compared with a third of those not wanting to stop or cut down, a highly significant difference after controlling for covariates (P<0.0001). The group wanting to stop or cut down opioid use also reported significantly higher levels of opioid-related psychosocial problems and opioid control concerns.


There are high rates of ambivalence about opioid use among COT recipients who consider opioids helpful for pain relief. Depressed patients are more likely to be ambivalent about use of prescribed opioids. Eliciting patient ambivalence may be helpful in patients who are not benefiting from long-term opioid use as an initial step toward consideration of discontinuation.

Copyright © 2012 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.

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