Screening for problematic prescription opioid use

Richard C. Robinson, Robert J. Gatchel, Peter Polatin, Martin Deschner, Carl Noe, Noor Gajraj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The proper medicinal use of opioids, in light of their notorious history and current relation to social ills, continues to be debated and remains unclear in several areas of medicine. This article will review several areas and points of controversy related to screening for potential problematic opioid behavior in chronic nonmalignant pain patients. Controversy over the prescription of opioids for chronic nonmalignant pain continues, despite the growing acceptance of this practice. Indeed, past research supports the beneficial use of opioids for noncancer pain. Unfortunately, traditional definitions of abuse and dependence, with their emphasis on tolerance and withdrawal, are inappropriate for chronic pain patients prescribed opioids. The component of traditional definitions of abuse and dependence that appears most applicable to chronic pain patients centers on the criterion that the patient continue to take the drug (in this case, the opioid) despite negative and harmful effects or despite any decrease in pain level. Although clinical observations exist about risk factors for opioid misuse in chronic pain patients, there is limited research. Further, the area of prescreening for problematic drug behavior is in its infancy. However, researchers have begun to delve into this challenging area and the application of rigorous empirical research will bring us closer to identifying those patients at risk so that their pain is managed without destructive outcomes in other areas of their life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-228
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Journal of Pain
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Chronic pain
  • Dependence
  • Opioid
  • Screening


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