AURORA, Colo. – A team of researchers at the University of
Colorado School of Medicine and the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
recently surveyed patients to understand barriers to reducing the use of
opioids to manage chronic pain. The results of those interviews are published
in the current issue of the journal Pain Medicine.
of Americans take opioid medications daily to manage chronic pain, but there
are growing concerns among health care professionals of opioid misuse and
overdose. In early 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued
new guidelines, emphasizing a conservative approach to opioid prescribing. For
patients already on long-term opioid medications, the transition away from
opioid medications can be intensely unpleasant, anxiety-provoking and complex,
according to the study.
research team at the CU School of Medicine and the VA Eastern Colorado Health
Care System conducted in-depth interviews of 24 patients across 3 health
systems in metro Denver to explore the perspectives of patients on this issue.
Participants in the study described experiences of decreasing or stopping
opioid medications that were complicated by opioid withdrawal symptoms, fears
of increased pain and confusing medication changes. However, study participants
also described an improved quality of life after the transition.
the process can be very challenging, there may be a silver lining here,” said
Joseph Frank, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine and a primary care
physician at the VA Medical Center in Denver. “We heard powerful stories of patients
reclaiming their lives. It will be important to ensure that patients’ voices
are heard in the national conversation about these medications.”
participants also highlighted the importance of support from family and from
healthcare providers. This level of intensive support may be difficult for some
outpatient primary care practices, where a majority of opioid medications are
prescribed. “To achieve goals of improving quality of life and preventing
opioid-related harms, we need better evidence and more resources to support
patients both during and after this challenging transition,” Frank said.
results of the study are reported in an article, “Patients Perspectives on
Tapering of Chronic Opioid Therapy: A Qualitative Study,” published online on
May 20, by Pain Medicine. Frank is the lead author and six other
University of Colorado faculty members are listed as co-authors.
for the study came from the Small Grants Program at the Division of General
Internal Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.