My mother is receiving opiate medication for cancer pain. Should I be concerned about opiate addiction?

Answers from Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D.

People who receive opioid medications for cancer pain aren't likely to experience opiate addiction.

People with cancer may experience significant pain when the cancer invades certain tissues or presses against nerves. Pain may also result as a complication of cancer treatment. Doctors who treat cancer pain usually start with nonopioid medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen. When these aren't effective, or unwanted side effects occur, opioids may be used for moderate to severe cancer pain.

Opiate addiction (psychological dependence) in people with cancer pain is rare. Adequate management of cancer pain with opioids doesn't usually lead to "drug seeking" behavior and addiction. The benefits of treating cancer pain with opioids usually far exceed the negative effects and potential for addiction. The advantages of using opioids to treat cancer pain include the option to use a number of different drugs with varying strengths, to use multiple routes of administration and to adjust the dose to match the pain.

Jul. 02, 2009 See more Expert Answers