Prevalence and characteristics of chronic pain among chemically dependent patients in methadone maintenance and residential treatment facilities

CONTEXT: Little is known about the prevalence and characteristics of chronic pain among patients with different types of chemical dependency. Objectives: To estimate the prevalence and to examine the characteristics of chronic severe pain in chemically dependent populations receiving methadone maintenance or inpatient residential treatment.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Representative samples of 390 patients from 2 methadone maintenance treatment programs (MMTPs) and 531 patients from 13 short-term residential substance abuse treatment (inpatient) programs, all in New York State, were surveyed in late 2000 and early 2001.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Prevalence of chronic severe pain, defined as pain that persisted for more than 6 months and was of moderate to severe intensity or that significantly interfered with daily activities. Results: Chronic severe pain was experienced by 37% of MMTP patients (95% confidence interval [CI], 32%-41%) and 24% of inpatients (95% CI, 20%-28%; P = .03). Pain of any type or duration during the past week was reported by 80% of MMTP patients and 78% of inpatients. Among those with chronic severe pain, 65% of MMTP patients and 48% of inpatients reported high levels of pain-related interference in physical and psychosocial functioning. Among MMTP patients, correlates of chronic pain in a multivariate model were age (odds ratio [OR], 2.08; 95% CI, 1.17-3.70), chronic illness (OR, 1.88; 95% CI, 1.07-3.29), lifetime psychiatric illness (OR, 1.77; 95% CI, 1.06-2.97), psychiatric distress (OR, 1.63; 95% CI, 1.22-2.18), and time in treatment (OR, 2.23; 95% CI, 1.06-4.68). Among inpatients, the correlates of chronic pain were race (blacks vs whites: OR, 0.52; 95% CI, 0.31-0.90; Hispanics vs whites: OR, 0.48; 95% CI, 0.24-0.95), drug craving (OR, 2.78; 95% CI, 1.54-5.02), chronic illness (OR, 2.17; 95% CI, 1.37-3.43), and psychiatric distress (OR, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.03-1.81). Among those with chronic severe pain, inpatients were significantly more likely than MMTP patients to have used illicit drugs, as well as alcohol, to treat their pain complaint (51% vs 34%, P = .005) but were less likely to have been prescribed pain medications (52% vs 67%, P = .01).

CONCLUSIONS: Chronic severe pain is prevalent among patients in substance abuse treatment, especially MMTP patients. Pain is associated with functional impairment and correlates of pain vary with the population. Self-medication for pain with psychoactive drugs appears especially problematic among substance users who enroll in drug-free treatment programs. Substance abuse treatment programs need to develop comprehensive and structured pain management programs.

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Full citation:
Rosenblum A, Joseph H, Fong, C, Kipnis S, Cleland CM, Portenoy RK (2003).
Prevalence and characteristics of chronic pain among chemically dependent patients in methadone maintenance and residential treatment facilities
Journal of the American Medical Association, 289 (18), 2370-2378. doi: 10.1001/jama.289.18.2370.