There is currently an opioid epidemic happening in the United States, with 90 American deaths per day due to overdose. Opioids span from legally and illegally obtained fentanyl and oxycodone to the illegal street drug heroin. Although prescribed opioids serve a purpose in managing pain in populations across the board, a new study1 revealed that cancer survivors have a higher use of prescription opioids than their non-cancer counterparts.
Lead researcher Rinku Sutradhar, PhD, and her team from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Canada evaluated opioid use in both cancer and non-cancer patients. Their study evaluated 8,601 cancer survivors and 8,601 non-cancer survivors for opioid use and prescription fillings.
They discovered that cancer patients, even those 10 years post–cancer diagnosis, had a 1.22-fold higher rate of opioid prescriptions as opposed to non–cancer survivors. Additionally, they noted a higher average rate of prescription filing over a 36-month period in cancer survivors (7.7 vs 6.3 prescriptions filled).
In addition to cancer survivor status, higher rates of prescription opioid use was seen in certain populations including those who were categorized as low-income; younger age; residents of rural areas; and those with comorbidities.
Dr. Sutradhar expressed concern with the results of this study. "Our research findings raise concerns about the diagnosis and management of chronic pain problems among survivors stemming from their cancer diagnosis or treatment…Physicians providing primary care to cancer survivors should consider close examination of reasons for continued opioid use to differentiate chronic pain from dependency,” she explained.
As healthcare providers, it is vital that patients be evaluated for drug tolerance and the potential for addiction during their pain management treatment. If dependency is observed, referrals to appropriate providers or organizations should be made while supporting them through this process.
- Sutradhar R, Lokku A, Barbera L. Cancer survivorship and opioid prescribing rates: A population-based matched cohort study among individuals with and without a history of cancer. Cancer. 2017; Aug 7. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30839. [Epub ahead of print].