Only modest long-term opioid dose escalation occurs over time in chronic nonmalignant pain management.J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother. 2013 Dec; 27(4):370-7.JP
Clinical experience and the literature increasingly support differentiating chronic pain associated with malignant disease from chronic pain associated with nonmalignant conditions when defining optimal pharmacotherapy. The use of opioids for chronic nonmalignant pain has grown steadily despite the lack of a strong evidence base that can guide practice. A fundamental question is whether patients develop tolerance and need repeated dose escalations to sustain pain control. We examined opioid prescribing data from United Kingdom Clinical Practice Research Datalink longitudinal database of general practice records and tracked dose changes but not pain reports in a sample of 4035 patients who received oral or transdermal-extended release opioids for chronic nonmalignant pain. The median number of days on opioid pharmacotherapy for all patients was 311. Thirty percent of patients never changed doses during the course of treatment. In patients who never changed medications, the mean morphine equivalent 24-hour dose increased from beginning to end of opioid pharmacotherapy only by 1.4 fold, t = 25.73, Cohen's d = .427 and was independent of both age and gender. Comparison across extended release morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl revealed that it was significantly greatest for patients using fentanyl and least for those using morphine.