Assessment and management of chemical coping in patients with cancer

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66 Scopus citations


Chemical coping is a working definition that describes patients' intake of opioids on a scale that spans the range between normal nonaddictive opioid use for pain all the way to opioid addiction. Most patients will fall somewhere between the two extremes in using opioid analgesics to cope with their psychological or spiritual distress. The degree to which patients use their medications in a maladaptive manner will determine their susceptibility to drug toxicity and harm. When there are no obvious cancer-related causes for increased pain intensity, chemical coping and other patient-related factors such as delirium, somatization, and depression should be considered. As part of the initial evaluation of patients with cancer-related pain, a brief screening tool such as the CAGE questionnaire should be used to identify patients who may be at risk for chemical coping. Identifying patients at risk will allow clinicians to avoid unnecessary opioid toxicity, control pain, and improve quality of life. A structured approach for managing opioid use should be adopted, including standardized documentation, opioid treatment agreements, urine drug screens, frequent visits, and restricted quantities of breakthrough opioids. All patients at risk should receive brief motivational interviewing with an objective, nonjudgmental, and empathic style that includes personalized feedback, particularly about markers of risk or harm. For chemical copers approaching the addiction end of the spectrum, with evidence of compulsive use and destructive behavior, referral should be made to substance abuse specialists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1734-1738
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Jun 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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