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Skinner MA, Lewis ET, Trafton JA. Opioid use patterns and association with pain severity and mental health functioning in chronic pain patients. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.). 2012 Apr 1; 13(4):507-17.
OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to explore the relationship between patterns of opioid use, pain severity, and pain-related mental health in chronic pain patients prescribed opioids. DESIGN: The study was designed as a one-time patient interview with structured pain and opioid use assessments. SETTING: The study was set in a tertiary care medical center in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. PATIENTS. Study participants were primary care patients with a pain condition for greater than 6 months who received at least one prescription for an opioid in the prior 12 months. OUTCOME MEASURES: The Prescription Drug Use Questionnaire was used to assess patterns of opioid use. The Pain Outcomes Questionnaire was used to assess pain-related functioning. RESULTS: Symptomatic use of opioid medication (e.g., taking an opioid in response to increased pain) was more common than scheduled (i.e., taking an opioid at regular times) or strategic use of opioid medication (e.g., taking an opioid specifically to engage in activities). Symptomatic use of opioids was associated with poorer pain-related mental health, after controlling for pain duration and pain-related physical functioning. Use of opioids in a scheduled pattern was associated with better pain-related mental health. Patients rarely reported that they used opioids strategically to facilitate functional activities. CONCLUSIONS: The patterns in which patients use their opioid medications are associated with their psychological functioning. This is consistent with theory regarding the potential impact of reinforcing effects of opioid medication on functional outcomes. Interventions to encourage strategic or scheduled opioid use warrant investigation as methods to improve pain outcomes with opioids.