Co-morbid pain and opioid addiction: long term effect of opioid maintenance on acute pain

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry, Division of Addiction Psychiatry

Publication Date


Document Type



Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology | Substance Abuse and Addiction


INTRODUCTION: Medication assisted treatment for opioid dependence alters the pain experience. This study will evaluate changes pain sensitivity and tolerance with opioid treatments; and duration of this effect after treatment cessation.

METHOD: 120 Individuals with chronic pain were recruited in 4 groups (N = 30): 1-methadone for opioid addiction; 2-buprenorphine for opioid addiction; 3-history of opioid maintenance treatment for opioid addiction but with prolonged abstinence (M = 121 weeks; SD = 23.3); and 4-opioid naive controls. Participants completed a psychological assessment and a cold water task including, time to first pain (sensitivity) and time to stopping the pain task (tolerance). Data analysis used survival analyses.

RESULTS: A Kaplan-Meier-Cox survival analysis showed group differences for both pain sensitivity (log rank = 15.50; p < .001) and tolerance (log rank = 20.11; p < .001). Current or historical use of opioid maintenance resulted in differing pain sensitivity compared to opioid naive (p's < .01). However, tolerance to pain was better among those with a history of opioid maintenance compared to active methadone patients (p < .05), with the highest tolerance found among opioid naive control group participants (p's < .001). Correlations within the prolonged abstinent group indicated pain tolerance was significantly improved as length of opioid abstinence increased (R = .37; p < .05); but duration of abstinence did not alter sensitivity (ns).

CONCLUSION: Among individuals with a history of prolonged opioid maintenance, there appears to be long-term differences in pain sensitivity that do not resolve with discontinuation of opioid maintenance. Although pain sensitivity does not change, pain tolerance does improve after opioid maintenance cessation. Implications for treating co-morbid opioid addiction and pain (acute and chronic) are discussed.

DOI of Published Version



Wachholtz A, Gonzalez G. Co-morbid pain and opioid addiction: long term effect of opioid maintenance on acute pain. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Dec 1;145:143-9. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.10.010. Epub 2014 Oct 28. PubMed PMID: 25456326; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4254606. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Drug and alcohol dependence

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Link to Article in PubMed

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