With opioid-related overdoses on the rise, there has been an increase in provider training, new clinic policies and other efforts to curb prescription painkiller abuse in the United States. These initiatives are helping, but they are not solving the underlying issues, according to a new reported published in the journal Substance Abuse.
Researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University examined 514 patients who had been prescribed long-term, chronic opioid therapy. Prescribed high-dose opioids, one group of patients benefitted from opioid dosing policies. These additional measures helped 37% of patients taper their doses to a safer level, 120 mg per day of “morphine equivalent.”
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Additionally, the study’s authors found that patients who took substantially lower doses did not report any higher levels of pain.
“The approach used in this study showed progress, but not enough,” Dr Melissa Weimer, DO, MCR, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, said in a statement. “We’d rather have a higher success rate. But in some cases we’re dealing with a generation of patients who have been prescribed high-dose opioids for many years.”
Study author Daniel Hartung, MPH, an associate professor in the Oregon Health & Science University College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University, in a statement said there needs to be a closer collaboration between doctors, pharmacists and patients to effectively tackle growing concerns with opioid abuse.
“Educational efforts and opioid dose-limitation policies may not be sufficient to decrease opioid misuse, addiction, or opioid-related mortality,” the researchers write, “but they appear to be one step in the right direction.”
The Society of General Internal Medicine supported the study.
Weimer M, Hartung D, Ahmed S, Nicolaidis C. A Chronic Opioid Therapy Dose Reduction Policy in Primary Care. Subst Abus. 2015:00-00. doi:10.1080/08897077.2015.1129526.