The relationship between overactivity and opioid use in chronic pain: a 5-day observational study

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With increasing concerns about the potential harm of long-term opioid therapy, there is a need for the development and implementation of alternative treatment strategies for patients with chronic pain who have been using opioids for a prolonged period of time. Based on the findings from a recent qualitative investigation that suggested there may be a bidirectional association between opioid reliance and habitual overactivity behaviour (activity engagement that significantly exacerbates pain), this study was designed to quantitatively investigate the association between opioid use and habitual overactivity over a 5-day period in a group of chronic pain patients. Participants provided a list of their prescribed pain medication, completed a self-report measure of habitual overactivity, and then commenced 5 days of data collection. Data collection required participants to wear an activity monitor and to complete a diary that detailed their daily activities and the time at which they took medication. Individuals reporting higher levels of habitual overactivity were more likely to be prescribed opioids. In addition, higher levels of habitual overactivity were associated with more frequent pro re nata (“as needed”) opioid use over the 5 days, and with a discrepancy between the prescribed and actual oral morphine-equivalent daily dose, where more medication was taken than was prescribed. There was no predominant context for pro re nata use. The results of this study support the idea that habitual overactivity behaviour may play a role in the development of reliance on opioid medication and that such an association may provide a potential treatment target for opioid therapy rationalisation.

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