Dr. Russell Portenoy, a Leader in Pain Medicine, Answers Critical Questions About Using Opioids for Chronic Pain


russell-k-portenoy
"Only about 5% of people with chronic pain ever see a specialist."
(RUSSELL K. PORTENOY)
Russell K. Portenoy, MD, is chairman of the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

Q: Would you say that opioids are a last resort?

A: No. Opioids should be considered for every patient with chronic, moderate to severe pain, but in every case, you would only prescribe the opioid after carefully considering the responses to several questions.


Q: What are those questions?

A: First, what is typical treatment with respect to this pain? Second, is there some other therapy that has as good or better efficacy and safety? Third, is this person at relatively high risk of opioid side effects for whatever reason? And fourth, is this patient likely to be a responsible drug taker, or is there a history of substance use problems?

So in some cases, for example a patient with severe pain who has not done well with several steroid or other drug injections and physical therapy, and who presents to the doctor with back pain so severe that he can't walk—that patient might be considered a candidate right then for a trial.



Q: What is an example of that review process with a typical patient who has arthritis of the knees and hips.

A: Everybody would agree that the first-line therapies typically would include acetaminophen, physical therapy, or a TENS unit, or maybe—if there's a single joint that has some swelling—an injection.

The next-line therapy would be an NSAID. But if that person has a history of an ulcer or a history of bad heart disease, the NSAID risk gets to be relatively high. So that patient might be considered for a trial of an opioid at that point.




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Last Updated: April 20, 2008

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