Conference Coverage

Outpatient program successfully tackles substance use and chronic pain



– An interdisciplinary intensive outpatient treatment program addressing chronic pain and substance use disorder effectively addressed both diagnoses in a military population.

Dr. Michael Stockin Kari Oakes/MDedge News

Dr. Michael Stockin

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) frequently address these conditions within a biopsychosocial format, but it’s not common for IOPs to have this dual focus on chronic pain and substance use disorder (SUD), said Michael Stockin, MD, speaking in an interview at the scientific meeting of the American Pain Society.

Dr. Stockin said he and his collaborators recognized that, especially among a military population, the two conditions have considerable overlap, so it made sense to integrate behavioral treatment for both conditions in an intensive outpatient program. “Our hypothesis was that if you can use an intensive outpatient program to address substance use disorder, maybe you can actually add a chronic pain curriculum – like a functional restoration program to it.

“As a result of our study, we did find that there were significant differences in worst pain scores as a result of the program. In the people who took both the substance use disorder and chronic pain curriculum, we found significant reductions in total impairment, worst pain, and they also had less … substance use as well,” said Dr. Stockin.

In a quality improvement project, Dr. Stockin and collaborators compared short-term outcomes for patients who received IOP treatment addressing both chronic pain and SUD with those receiving SUD-only IOP.

For those participating in the joint IOP, scores indicating worst pain on the 0-10 numeric rating scale were reduced significantly, from 7.55 to 6.23 (P = .013). Scores on a functional measure of impairment, the Pain Outcomes Questionnaire Short Form (POQ-SF) also dropped significantly, from 84.92 to 63.50 (P = .034). The vitality domain of the POQ-SF also showed that patients had less impairment after participation in the joint IOP, with scores in that domain dropping from 20.17 to 17.25 (P = .024).

Looking at the total cohort, patient scores on the Brief Addiction Monitor (BAM) dropped significantly from baseline to the end of the intervention, indicating reduced substance use (P = .041). Mean scores for participants in the joint IOP were higher at baseline than for those in the SUD-only IOP (1.000 vs. 0.565). However, those participating in the joint IOP had lower mean postintervention BAM scores than the SUD-only cohort (0.071 vs. 0.174).

American veterans experience more severe pain and have a higher prevalence of chronic pain than nonveterans. Similarly, substance use disorders, and opioid use disorders in particular, present an urgent challenge to the military health system as part of reducing mortality from substance use, wrote Dr. Stockin, a chronic pain fellow in pain management at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., and colleagues in the poster presentation.

The project enrolled a total of 66 patients (10 female and 56 male). Of these, 18 participated in the joint SUD–chronic pain program, and 48 received usual treatment of the SUD-only IOP treatment. The mean overall age was 33.2 years, and 71.2% of participants were white.

Overall, 51 patients (77.3%) of participants had alcohol use disorder. Participants included active duty service members, veterans, and their dependents. Opioid and cannabis use disorders were experienced by a total of eight patients, and seven more patients had diagnoses of alcohol use disorder along with other substance use disorders.

All patients completed the BAM and received urine toxicology and alcohol breath testing at enrollment; drug and alcohol screening was completed at other points during the IOP treatment for both groups as well.

The joint IOP ran 3 full days a week, with a substance use curriculum in the morning and a pain management program in the afternoon; the SUD-only participants had three morning sessions weekly. Both interventions lasted 6 weeks, and Dr. Stockin said he and his colleagues would like to acquire longitudinal data to assess the durability of gains seen from the joint IOP.

The multidisciplinary team running the joint IOP was made up of an addiction/pain medicine physician, a clinical health psychologist, a physical therapist, social workers, and a nurse.

“This project is the first of its kind to find a significant reduction in pain burden while concurrently treating addiction and pain in an outpatient military health care setting,” Dr. Stockin and colleagues wrote in the poster accompanying the presentation.

“We had outcomes in both substance use and chronic pain that were positive, so it suggests that in the military health system, people may actually benefit from treating both chronic pain and substance use disorder concurrently. If you could harmonize those programs, you might be able to get good outcomes for soldiers and their families,” Dr. Stockin said.

Dr. Stockin reported no conflicts of interest. The project was funded by the Defense Health Agency.

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