• Incidence;
  • opioid analgesics;
  • opioid dependence;
  • pain relief;
  • prevalence;
  • systematic review



To assess the incidence or prevalence of opioid dependence syndrome in adults (with and without previous history of substance abuse) following treatment with opioid analgesics for pain relief.


Medline, Embase, CINHAL and the Cochrane Library were searched up to January 2011. Systematic reviews and primary studies were included if they reported data about incidence or prevalence of opioid dependence syndrome (as defined by DSM-IV or ICD-10) in patients receiving strong opioids (or opioid-type analgesics) for treatment of acute or chronic pain due to any physical condition. The data were abstracted, and the methodological quality was assessed using validated checklists.


Data were extracted from 17 studies involving a total of 88 235 participants. The studies included three systematic reviews, one randomized controlled trial, eight cross-sectional studies and four uncontrolled case series. Most studies included adult patients with chronic non-malignant pain; two also included patients with cancer pain; only one included patients with a previous history of dependence. Incidence ranged from 0 to 24% (median 0.5%); prevalence ranged from 0 to 31% (median 4.5%).


The available evidence suggests that opioid analgesics for chronic pain conditions are not associated with a major risk for developing dependence.