Dialing back opioids for chronic pain one conversation at a time

Mark W. Goodman, Thomas P. Guck, Robyn M. Teply

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose Our study examined the efficacy of a primary-care intervention in reducing opioid use among patients who have chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP). We also recorded the intervention's effect on patients' decisions to leave (or stay) with the primary-care practice. Methods A family physician (FP) identified 41 patients in his practice who had CNCP of at least 6 month's duration and were using opioids. The intervention with each patient involved an initial discussion of ethical principles, evidence-based practice, and current published guidelines. Following the discussion, patients self-selected to participate with their FP in a continuing tapering program or to accept referral to a pain center for management of their opioid medications. Tapering ranged from a 10% reduction per week to a more rapid 25% to 50% reduction every few days. Twenty-seven patients continued tapering with their FP, and 6 months later were retrospectively placed in the Taper Group. Fourteen patients chose not to pursue the tapering option and were referred to a single-modality medical pain clinic (MPC). All patients had the option of staying with the FP for other medical care. Results At baseline and again at 6 months post-initial intervention, the MPC Group was taking significantly higher daily doses of morphine equivalents than the Taper Group. The Taper Group at 6 months was taking significantly lower average daily narcotic doses in morphine equivalents than at baseline. No significant baseline-to-6 month differences were found in the MPC Group. Contrary to many physicians' fear of losing patients following candid discussions about opioid use, 40 of the 41 patients continued with the FP for other health needs. Conclusions FPs can frankly discuss opioid use with their patients based on ethical principles and evidence-based recommendations and employ a tapering protocol consistent with current opioid treatment guidelines without jeopardizing the patient-physician relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)753-757
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Family Practice
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Family Practice


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