Applied Evidence

Tips and tools for safe opioid prescribing

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Use the patient interview to ensure that Tx aligns with patient goals

For patients presenting with chronic pain, conduct a complete general history and physical examination that includes a review of available records; a medical, surgical, social, family, medication, and allergy history; a review of systems; and documentation of any psychiatric comorbidities (ie, depression, anxiety, psychiatric disorders, personality traits). Inquiries about social history and current medications should explore the possibility of previous and current substance use and misuse.

While causes of pain can be assessed through physical examination and diagnostic tests, the patient interview is an invaluable source of information. No single means of assessment has consistently demonstrated superiority over another in measuring pain, and numerous standard assessment tools are available (TABLE 19-13).14 Unidimensional tools are often easy and quick ways to assess pain intensity. Multidimensional tools, although more time intensive, are designed to gather more subjective information about the patient’s pain. Finally, use an instrument such as the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to screen patients for psychological distress.15,16

Validated pain assessment tools

Use state prescription drug monitoring programs and urine drug testing to confirm patient compliance.

Provide an environment for patients to openly discuss their experiences, expectations, preferences, fears, and coping efforts, as well as the impact that pain has had on their lives.17,18 Without this foundational understanding, medical treatment may work against the patient’s goals. An empathic approach allows for effective communication, shared decision making, and ultimately, an avenue for individualized therapy.

Balancing treatment with risk mitigation

The challenge of managing chronic pain is to balance treating the patient with the basic principle of nonmaleficence (primum non nocere: “first, do no harm”). The literature has shown that risk factors such as a family history of substance abuse or sexual abuse, younger age, and psychological disease may be linked to greater risk for opioid misuse.19,20 However, despite the many risk-screening tools available, no single instrument has reliably and accurately predicted those at higher propensity for prescription addiction. In fact, risk-screening tools as a whole remain unregulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other authorities.21 Still, screening tools provide useful information as one component of the risk-mitigation process.

Screening tools. The tools most commonly used clinically to stratify risk prior to prescribing opioids are the 5-item Opioid Risk Tool (ORT),22 the revised 24-item Screener and Opioid Assessment for Patients with Pain (SOAPP-R),23 which are patient self-administered assessments, and the 7-item clinician-administered DIRE (Diagnosis, Intractability, Risk, Efficacy).24 Given the subtle differences in criteria and the time required for each of these risk assessments, we recommend choosing one based on site-specific resources and overall clinician comfort.25 Risk stratification helps to determine the optimal frequency and intensity of monitoring, not necessarily to deny care to “high-risk” patients.

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