Original Research

Dialing back opioids for chronic pain one conversation at a time

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The 27 patients who chose to work with their FP started an individually tailored opioid-tapering program and were retrospectively placed in the Taper Group 6 months later. Tapering ranged from a slow 10% reduction in dosage per week to a more rapid 25% to 50% reduction every few days. Although evidence to guide specific recommendations on the rate of reduction is lacking, a slower rate may reduce unpleasant symptoms of opioid withdrawal.6 Following the patient-FP discussion, the 14 patients who chose not to pursue the tapering option were referred to an MPC for pain management, but could opt to remain with the FP for all other medical care. At 6 months post-discussion, we retrospectively assigned these 14 patients to the MPC Group.

Measures. We obtained demographic and medical information, including age, gender, race, marital status, and medication level in morphine equivalents, from the electronic health record. Medication level in morphine equivalents was recorded at the beginning of the intervention and again 6 months later. All analyses were conducted using SPSS Version 24 (IBM Corp, Armonk, NY) with P<.05 used to indicate statistical significance.


Between-group differences. The Taper and MPC groups did not differ significantly on demographic variables, with mean ages, respectively, at 57 and 51 years, sex 56% and 50% female, race 74% and 79% white, and marital status 48% and 50% married.

Patients who tapered opioid usage under FP guidance significantly reduced daily morphine equivalents over 6 months.

We found significant differences between the Taper and MPC groups on total daily dose in morphine equivalents at baseline and at 6 months following initial intervention. The Levene’s test for equality of variances was statistically significant, indicating unequal variances between the groups. In our SPSS analyses, we therefore used the option “equal variances not assumed.” TABLE 1 lists resultant means, standard deviations, individual sample t-test scores, and confidence intervals. The MPC Group was taking significantly higher daily doses of morphine equivalents than the Taper Group both at baseline and at 6 months following initial intervention.

Between-group comparisons of daily opioid usage at baseline and at 6 months post-initial intervention

Within-group differences. Paired sample t tests indicated significant differences between baseline and 6-month average daily narcotic doses in morphine equivalents for the Taper Group. No significant difference was found between baseline and 6-month daily morphine equivalents for the MPC group. These results indicated that patients who continued opioid tapering with the FP significantly reduced their daily morphine equivalents over the 6 months of the study. Patients in the MPC Group reduced morphine equivalents over the 6 months, but the reduction was not statistically significant. Paired sample t test results are presented in TABLE 2.

Within-group comparisons of daily opioid usage at baseline and at 6 months post-initial intervention

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