Reported lifetime aberrant drug-taking behaviors are predictive of current substance use and mental health problems in primary care patients

Michael F. Fleming*, James Davis, Steven D. Passik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Background. The aim of this report is to determine the frequency of aberrant drug behaviors and their relationship to substance abuse disorders in a large primary sample of patients receiving opioids for chronic pain. Methods. The data utilized for this report was obtained from 904 chronic pain patients receiving opioid therapy from their primary care physician. A questionnaire was developed based on 12 aberrant drug behaviors reported in the clinical literature. The diagnosis of a current substance use disorder was determined using Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) criteria. Results. The average duration of chronic pain in the sample was 16 years and for opioid therapy, 6.4 years. Of the patients, 80.5% reported one or more lifetime aberrant drug behaviors. The most frequent behaviors reported included early refills (41.7%), increase dose without physician consent (35.7%), and felt intoxicated from opioids (32.2%). Only 1.1% of subjects with 1-3 aberrant behaviors (N=464, 51.2%) met DSM-IV criteria for current opioid dependence compared with 9.9% of patients with four or more behaviors (N=264, 29.3%). Persons with positive urine toxicology tests for cocaine were 14 times more likely to report four or more behaviors than no behaviors (14.1% vs 1.1%). A logistic model found that subjects who reported four or more aberrant behaviors were more likely to have a current substance use disorder (odds ratio [OR]10.14; 3.72, 27.64), a positive test for cocaine (odds ratio [OR]3.01; 1.74, 15.4), an Addiction Severity Index (ASI) psychiatric composite score >0.5 (OR 2.38; 1.65, 3.44), male gender (OR 2.08: 1.48, 2.92), and older age (OR 0.69; 0.59, 0.81) compared with subjects with three or fewer behaviors. Pain levels, employment status, and morphine equivalent dose do not enter the model. Conclusions. Patients who report four or more aberrant drug behaviors are associated with a current substance use disorder and illicit drug use, whereas subjects with up to three aberrant behaviors have a very low probability of a current substance abuse disorder. Four behaviors-oversedated oneself, felt intoxicated, early refills, increase dose on own-appear useful as screening questions to predict patients at greatest risk for a current substance use disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1098-1106
Number of pages9
JournalPain Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2008


  • Aberrant Drug Behaviors
  • Chronic Pain
  • Opioids
  • Primary Care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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