Objective. The primary goal of this investigation was to examine selected outcomes in hospice patients who are prescribed one of three sustained-release opioid preparations. The outcomes examined include: pain score, constipation severity, and ability of the patient to communicate with caregivers.
Patients and Settings. This study included 12,000 terminally ill patients consecutively admitted to hospices and receiving pharmaceutical care services between the period of July 1 and December 31, 2002.
Design. We retrospectively examined prescribing patterns of sustained-release morphine, oxycodone, and transdermal fentanyl. We compared individual opioids on the aforementioned outcome markers, as well as patient gender, terminal diagnosis, and median length of stay.
Results. Patients prescribed a sustained-release opioid had similar average ratings of pain and constipation severity, regardless of the agent chosen. Patients prescribed transdermal fentanyl were reported to have more difficulty communicating with friends and family when compared with patients prescribed either morphine or oxycodone. On average, patients prescribed transdermal fentanyl had a shorter length of stay on hospice as compared with those receiving morphine or oxycodone.
Conclusion. There was no difference in observed pain or constipation severity among patients prescribed sustained-release opioid preparations. Patients receiving fentanyl were likely to have been prescribed the medication due to advanced illness and associated dysphagia. Diminished ability to communicate with caregivers and a shorter hospice course would be consistent with this profile. Further investigation is warranted to examine the correlation between a patient’s ability to interact with caregivers and pain control achieved.