Voluntary Opioid Tapering Program Shows Promise

By Beth Leipholtz 02/22/18

A new study tested an opioid tapering program on chronic pain patients.

 physician presenting pill bottle to patient

A new tapering program was tested with chronic pain patients who take opioids for pain control, according to a study from Stanford University.  

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, explores the concept of a voluntary tapering program. According to Stanford Medicine, the idea behind the program is to allow patients to feel more in control with slow, steady tapering, versus a more aggressive approach. 

Beth Darnall, a study author and Stanford clinical associate professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine, tells Stanford Medicine that taking time to taper is key.

“Slow and steady wins this race,” she said. “In most cases there is no urgency so we took several months to help patients make the transition comfortably.”

For some, tapering off opioids can be a stressful and fear-inducing process. Darnall says this is where the trust between patient and physician comes into play. 

“Many patients are fearful about reducing opioids,” she told Stanford Medicine. “Our study methods focused on providing education to help allay their fears, as well as strengthening that bond to help patients succeed and achieve best outcomes.”

In conducting this study, researchers looked at patients with chronic pain that was unrelated to cancer. Patients were being treated with long-term opioids through a community pain clinic in Colorado. In all, 110 patients were invited to take part in the study. Of those, 68 volunteered to do so and 51 completed the study. 

According to Stanford Medicine, those patients involved in the study were provided with a self-help book about reducing opioids, as well as an individualized plan to taper their dosage of medication. At the beginning of the study, as well as four months later, patients completed a survey covering their demographics, drug use, pain levels and psychosocial measures. 

Over the course of one year, physicians slowly decreased each patient’s dosage, pausing or stopping if necessary. In the end, many patients reduced their dosage by 50% or more. 

Now, Stanford Medicine reports, researchers are testing the tapering program on a larger scale; nearly 900 patients on long-term opioids are taking part. 

“We recognize that it’s not enough to just reduce patient risks with opioid reduction; we also need to help patients with chronic pain learn the tools to best help themselves,” she said. “We hypothesize that patients will have better opioid and pain reduction when they learn to self-manage their pain and symptoms through one of these two group behavioral treatment classes.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.