Applied Evidence

Tips and tools for safe opioid prescribing

Author and Disclosure Information



Follow-up and monitoring

Responsiveness to opioids varies greatly among individuals.38,39 An opioid that leads to a therapeutic analgesic effect in one patient may cause adverse events or toxicity in another. Periodically reassess the appropriateness of chronic opioid therapy and modify treatment based on its ability to meet therapeutic goals. While practice behaviors and clinic policies vary across institutions, risk stratification can provide guidance on the frequency and intensity of follow-up and monitoring. Kaye et al21 describe a triage system in which low-risk patients may be managed by a primary care provider with routine follow-up and reassessment every 3 months.21 Moderate-risk patients may warrant additional management by specialists and a monthly follow-up. High-risk patients may need referrals to interdisciplinary pain centers or addiction specialists.21

Along these lines, the CDC recommends conducting a PDMP review and UDT before initiating therapy, followed by a periodic PDMP (every 1-3 months) and a UDT at least annually. Keep in mind, providers should follow their state-specific regulations, as monitoring requirements may vary. In addition, clinicians should always be alert to adverse reactions (TABLE 435) and sudden behavior changes such as respiratory depression, nausea, constipation, pruritus, cognitive impairment, falls, motor vehicle accidents, and aberrant behaviors. Under these circumstances, consider a dose reduction and, in certain cases, discontinuation.

Additionally, in cases of pain unresponsive to escalating opioid doses, include opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH) in the differential. Dose reductions, opioid rotations, and office-based detoxifications are all options for the treatment of OIH.40 Assessment of pain and function can be accomplished using the PEG scale (TABLE 2).32


Two weeks into Mr. G’s initial regimen, he called to report no change in pain or functional status. We increased his dose to 5 mg PO every 6 hours as needed. At his 1-month follow-up appointment, he reported his pain as 6/10 and no adverse effects. We again increased his dose to 10 mg PO every 6 hours as needed, with follow-up in another month.

Discontinuation and tapering of opioids

Indications for discontinuing opioids are patient request, resolution of pain, doses ≥ 90 MME/d (in which case a pain specialist should be consulted), inadequate response, untoward adverse effects, and abuse and misuse.1,31,41 However, providers may also face the challenge of working with patients for whom the benefit of opioid therapy is uncertain but who do not have an absolute contraindication. Guidance on this matter may be found in a 2017 systematic review of studies on reducing or discontinuing long-term opioid therapy.42 Although evidence on the whole was low quality, it showed that tapering or discontinuing opioids may actually reduce pain and improve function and quality of life.

Continue to: When working with a patient to taper treatment

Next Article: