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Risk factors for drug dependence among out-patients on opioid therapy in a large US health-care system


  • Preliminary results from this study were presented at the 15th Annual HMO Research Network Conference, Danville, PA, April 2009.

Joseph A. Boscarino, Senior Investigator, Center for Health Research, Geisinger Clinic, 100 N. Academy Avenue, Danville, PA 17822-4400, USA. E-mail:


Aims  Our study sought to assess the prevalence of and risk factors for opioid drug dependence among out-patients on long-term opioid therapy in a large health-care system.

Methods  Using electronic health records, we identified out-patients receiving 4+ physician orders for opioid therapy in the past 12 months for non-cancer pain within a large US health-care system. We completed diagnostic interviews with 705 of these patients to identify opioid use disorders and assess risk factors.

Results  Preliminary analyses suggested that current opioid dependence might be as high as 26% [95% confidence interval (CI) = 22.0–29.9] among the patients studied. Logistic regressions indicated that current dependence was associated with variables often in the medical record, including age <65 [odds ratio (OR) = 2.33, P = 0.001], opioid abuse history (OR = 3.81, P < 0.001), high dependence severity (OR = 1.85, P = 0.001), major depression (OR = 1.29, P = 0.022) and psychotropic medication use (OR = 1.73, P = 0.006). Four variables combined (age, depression, psychotropic medications and pain impairment) predicted increased risk for current dependence, compared to those without these factors (OR = 8.01, P < 0.001). Knowing that the patient also had a history of severe dependence and opioid abuse increased this risk substantially (OR = 56.36, P < 0.001).

Conclusion  Opioid misuse and dependence among prescription opioid patients in the United States may be higher than expected. A small number of factors, many documented in the medical record, predicted opioid dependence among the out-patients studied. These preliminary findings should be useful in future research efforts.