Stopping or Decreasing Opioid Therapy in Patients on Chronic Opioid Therapy

Joseph V Pergolizzi, Giustino Varrassi, Antonella Paladini, JoAnn LeQuang
Pain and Therapy 2019, 8 (2): 163-176
With the rising concerns about long-term opioid use, particularly in patients with chronic noncancer pain, more and more patients are being considered for decreased doses or discontinuation of opioid therapy. This is a challenging clinical situation for both patient and clinician and should be presented in a shared decision-making model so that the patient understands the risks of opioid therapy and how the therapy will be discontinued. The patient should be aware of the long-range plan and its milestones. It is imperative that alternate pain control treatments be made available to the patient early, and that the patient never feels abandoned by the healthcare team. There can be many barriers in shared decision-making and multiple discussions between patient and provider may be required. Opioid use should not be decreased sharply or discontinued abruptly, but should be gradually decremented in a process known as tapering. Tapering should be systematic and planned in advance with the patient knowing the steps. Slow tapers (over months) are more comfortable for the patients but may not always be appropriate. There is guidance for planning the taper and the patient should be closely monitored throughout this process. If withdrawal symptoms occur, they can be managed, for example, with lofexidine. Patients should get full support as they explore new pain control options. For patients who have opioid use disorder, addiction counseling may be appropriate. Navigating opioid discontinuation can be slow work, but optimal results occur when the healthcare team works together and respectfully with the patient.

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