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Has province-wide symptom screening changed opioid prescribing rates in older patients with cancer?


Purpose — Previous work in Ontario demonstrated that 33% of patients with cancer with severe pain did not receive opioids at the time of their pain assessment. With efforts to increase symptom screening and management since then, the objective of this study was to examine temporal trends in opioid prescribing.

Methods — The cohort was comprised of Ontario residents ≥ 65 years of age with a cancer history who were eligible for the government pharmacare program and had a pain assessment using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System. Use of the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System is part of a provincial initiative to screen ambulatory patients with cancer for symptoms. Annually between 2007 and 2013, we used the date of an individual's highest pain score as the index date to calculate annual opioid prescription rates for claims within 30 days before and up to 7 days after the index date. A logistic regression model evaluated the association between index year and odds of receiving an opioid prescription.

Results — During the study period, the number of individuals undergoing symptom assessment annually increased more than eight-fold. Opioid prescription rates were directly related to pain scores, but there was an annual 5% relative decrease in the odds of receiving an opioid prescription during the era from 2009 to 2013.

Conclusion — We are doing better at screening for pain, but this has not led to an increase in analgesic intervention for those identified. Additional work is required to determine what opioid prescribing rate is optimal to ensure we are not missing opportunities to improve patient comfort.



Barbera L, Sutradhar R, Chu A, Seow H, Earle CC, O’Brien MA, Dudgeon D, DeAngelis C, Atzema C, Husain A, Liu Y, Howell D. J Oncol Pract. 2017; 13(11):e927-34. Epub 2017 Sep 19.

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