Original Research

Dialing back opioids for chronic pain one conversation at a time

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Patient retention. All but one of the 41 patients in the Tapering and MPC groups continued with the FP for the remainder of their health care needs. Contrary to some physicians’ fears, the patients in this study maintained continuity with their FP.


Results of this study indicate that an intervention consisting of a physician-patient discussion of ethical principles and evidence-based practice, followed by individualized opioid tapering per published guidelines, led to a significant reduction in opioid use in patients with CNCP. The Taper Group, which completed the intervention, exhibited significant morphine reductions between baseline and 6-month follow-up. This did not hold true for the MPC Group.

The MPC Group, despite participating in the discussion with the FP, chose not to complete the tapering program and was referred to a single-modality MPC where opioids were managed rather than tapered. While the MPC group reduced daily opioid dose levels, the reduction was not statistically significant. A possible reason for no difference within the MPC Group may be that they had greater dependence on opioids, as their baseline average daily dose was much higher than that in the Taper Group (173 mg vs 31 mg, respectively). Although we did not assess anxiety directly, we speculate that the MPC Group was more anxious about opioid reduction than the Taper Group, and that this anxiety potentially led 4 patients to opt out of the initial FP discussion and 14 patients to self-select out of the tapering program following the discussion.

Of the 14 patients who opted not to participate with their FP in opioid tapering, 13 remained with him for all other care.

The FP intervention was successful for the Taper Group. For MPC patients, an enhanced intervention including behavior health strategies13 might have reduced anxiety and increased motivation14 to continue tapering. Based on moderate-quality evidence, APS-AAPM guidelines strongly recommend that CNCP be viewed as a complex biopsychosocial condition. Therefore, clinicians who prescribe opioids should routinely integrate psychotherapeutic interventions, functional restoration, interdisciplinary therapy, and other adjunctive nonopioid therapies.6

Opioid tapering within multidisciplinary rehabilitation programs is possible without significant worsening of pain, mood, and function.15 Recently, an outpatient opioid-tapering support intervention showed promise for efficacy in reducing prescription opioid doses without resultant increases in pain intensity or pain interference.16

Continue to: The tapering protocol in our study...

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