Before I begin, let me clarify I’m not a trained clinician nor a pain expert. I share my experience as a pain patient (I tapered off opioids while attending the Mayo Pain Rehabilitation Center – it’s an expectation when you start the program) and my research. My treatment approach may or may not be right for everyone else. I don’t mean to dismiss anyone’s beliefs or experience. If opioids work for you, so be it. Treatment is a decision between patient and doctor.
Opioids are a hot topic. In the 1990s, they became the quickest and least expensive treatment option for chronic pain. Then came the opioid crisis and a hard push to reduce opioid use. More recently, there is a movement to de-stigmatize opioids.
Bottom line for me
While opioids are appropriate for acute pain, there’s no quick fix for chronic pain. While some chronic pain patients report improvement with opioids, there is a question of when do the risks exceed the rewards.
It isn’t fair to ask chronic pain patients to lower or stop opioids with little or no tapering and no alternative treatments. If the decision is to reduce or stop opioid therapy, tapering should be done with oversight and alternative treatment. Chronic pain patients shouldn’t be expected to abruptly stop opioid therapy.
If used, opioids should be prescribed at the safest lowest dose and be used as part of a comprehensive pain management plan, including non-opioid medicines and non-biomedical therapies like ACT, CBT, relaxation training, exercise, and other coping strategies.
More research is needed about all sorts of pain treatment.
Barnett, M. L. (2020). Opioid Prescribing in the Midst of Crisis — Myths and Realities. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(12), 1086-1088. doi:10.1056/nejmp1914257 https://www.nejm.org/action/showPdf?articleTools=true&fbclid=IwAR0k_gaCI6MDzN8r-N33UwWqyIC8IqmPEjRwdnzl3LGbO2UAbHLFHIBw880&downloadfile=showPdf&doi=10.1056/NEJMp1914257&loaded=true
Busse JW, Wang L, Kamaleldin M, et al. Opioids for Chronic Noncancer Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2018;320(23):2448–2460. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.18472 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2718795
Chou R, Deyo R, Devine B, Hansen R, Sullivan S, Jarvik JG, Blazina I, Dana T, Bougatsos C, Turner J. The Effectiveness and Risks of Long-Term Opioid Treatment of Chronic Pain. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 218. (Prepared by the Pacific Northwest Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-2012-00014-I.) AHRQ Publication No. 14-E005-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; September 2014. https://doi.org/10.23970/AHRQEPCERTA218. https://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/products/chronic-pain-opioid-treatment/research
Morasco BJ, Yarborough BJ, Smith NX, et al. Higher Prescription Opioid Dose is Associated With Worse Patient-Reported Pain Outcomes and More Health Care Utilization. J Pain. 2017;18(4):437-445.doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2016.12.004 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5376359/
Stannard C. Where now for opioids in chronic pain? Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 2018;56:118-122. https://dtb.bmj.com/content/56/10/118
Turner JA, Shortreed SM, Saunders KW, LeResche L, Von Korff M. Association of levels of opioid use with pain and activity interference among patients initiating chronic opioid therapy: a longitudinal study. Pain. 2016;157(4):849-857. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000452 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4939796/
Chronic Pain Champions is an information resource/blog/support group to help chronic pain patients, their families, and friends, as well as healthcare professionals. Learn more about this site and the author.