Opioid tapering in patients with prescription opioid use disorder: A retrospective study

Kehua Zhou, Peng Jia, Swati Bhargava, Yong Zhang, Taslima Reza, Yuan Bo Peng, Gary G Wang
Scandinavian Journal of Pain 2017, 17: 167-173

BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Opioid use disorder (OUD) refers to a maladaptive pattern of opioid use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. OUD causes, and vice versa, misuses and abuse of opioid medications. Clinicians face daily challenges to treat patients with prescription opioid use disorder. An evidence-based management for people who are already addicted to opioids has been identified as the national priority in the US; however, options are limited in clinical practices. In this study, we aimed to explore the success rate and important adjuvant medications in the medication assisted treatment with temporary use of methadone for opioid discontinuation in patients with prescription OUD.

METHODS: This is a retrospective chart review performed at a private physician office for physical medicine and rehabilitation. We reviewed all medical records dated between December 1st, 2011 and August 30th, 2016. The initial evaluation of the included patients (N=140) was completed between December 1st, 2011 and December 31st, 2014. They all have concumittant prescription OUD and chronic non-cancer pain. The patients (87 female and 53 male) were 46.7±12.7 years old, and had a history of opioid use of 7.7±6.1 years. All patients received the comprehensive opioid taper treatments (including interventional pain management techniques, psychotherapy, acupuncture, physical modalities and exercises, and adjuvant medications) on top of the medication assisted treatment using methadone (transient use). Opioid tapering was considered successful when no opioid medication was used in the last patient visit.

RESULTS: The 140 patients had pain of 9.6±8.4 years with 8/10 intensity before treatment which decreased after treatment in all comparisons (p<0.001 for all). Opioids were successfully tapered off in 39 (27.9%) patients after 6.6±6.7 visits over 8.8±7.2 months; these patients maintained opioid abstinence over 14.3±13.0 months with regular office visits. Among the 101 patients with unsuccessful opioid tapering, 13 patients only visited the outpatient clinic once. Significant differences were found between patients with and without successful opioid tapering in treatment duration, number of clinic visits, the use of mirtazepine, bupropion, topiramate, and trigger point injections with the univariate analyses. The use of mirtazepine (OR, 3.75; 95% CI, 1.48-9.49), topiramate (OR, 5.61; 95% CI, 1.91-16.48), or bupropion (OR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.08-5.81) was significantly associated with successful opioid tapering. The associations remain significant for mirtazepine and topiramate (not bupropion) in different adjusted models.

CONCLUSIONS: With comprehensive treatments, 27.9% of patients had successful opioid tapering with opioid abstinence for over a year. The use of mirtazepine, topiramate, or likely bupropion was associated with successful opioid tapering in the medication assisted treatment with temporary use of methadone. Opioid tapering may be a practical option and should be considered for managing prescription OUD.

IMPLICATIONS: For patients with OUD, indefinite opioid maintenance treatment may not be necessary. Considering the ethical values of autonomy, nonmaleficence, and beneficence, clinicians should provide patients with OUD the option of opioid tapering.

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