Opioid indications

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

Opioids have long been used to treat acute pain (such as post-operative pain). They have also found to be invaluable in palliative care to alleviate the severe, chronic, disabling pain of terminal conditions such as cancer. Contrary to popular belief, high doses are not required to control the pain of advanced or end-stage disease, with the median dose in such patients being only 15mg oral morphine every four hours (90mg/24 hours), i.e. 50% of patients manage on lower doses. In recent years there has been an increased use of opioids in the management of non-malignant chronic pain. This practice has grown from over 30 years and has become a serious problem.

Indications

The sole clinical indications for opioids in the United States, according to Drug Facts and Comparisons, 2005, are

In the U.S., doctors virtually never prescribe opioids for psychological relief (with the narrow exception of anxiety due to shortness of breath), despite their extensively reported psychological benefits. There are virtually no exceptions to this practice, even in circumstances where researchers have reported opioids to be especially effective and where the possibility of addiction or diversion is very low—for example, in the treatment of senile dementia, geriatric depression, and psychological distress due to chemotherapy or terminal diagnosis (see Abse; Berridge; Bodkin; Callaway; Emrich; Gold; Gutstein; Mongan; Portenoy; Reynolds; Takano; Verebey; Walsh; Way).

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