There is increasing concern about the appropriateness of prescribing pharmaceutical opioids for chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP), given the risks of problematic use and dependence. This article examines pharmaceutical opioid dose and dependence and examines the correlates of each.
Baseline data were obtained from a national sample of 1,424 people across Australia (median 58 years, 55% female and experiencing pain for a median of 10 years), who had been prescribed opioids for CNCP. Current opioid consumption was estimated in oral morphine equivalent (OME; mg per day), and ICD-10 pharmaceutical opioid dependence was assessed using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview.
Current opioid consumption varied widely: 8.8% were taking <20 mg OME per day, 52.1% were taking 21–90 mg OME, 24.3% were taking 91–199 mg OME, and 14.8% were taking >= 200 mg OME. Greater daily OME consumption was associated with higher odds of multiple physical and mental health issues, aberrant opioid use, problems associated with opioid medication and opioid dependence. A significant minority, 8.5%, met criteria for lifetime ICD-10 pharmaceutical opioid dependence and 4.7% met criteria for past year ICD-10 pharmaceutical opioid dependence. Multivariate analysis found past-year dependence was independently associated with being younger, exhibiting more aberrant behaviors and having a history of benzodiazepine dependence.
In this population of people taking opioids for CNCP, consumption of higher doses was associated with increased risk of problematic behaviors, and was more likely among people with a complex profile of physical and mental health problems.