Chronic pain management is a major challenge for primary care providers (PCPs). PCPs manage many patients with chronic pain and other comorbidities including mental health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Chronic pain and opioid problems are a national crisis, particularly among veterans (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2019). There are many veterans with chronic non-cancer pain who are being treated with opioids. Chronic opioid use has contributed to an epidemic of opioid-related adverse events (VA, 2017). Opioids not only result in poor pain control, but have associated risks such as misuse, overdose, and diversion which may be fatal (Frieden & Houry, 2016).
The aim of this project was to evaluate chronic non-cancer pain management of veterans using an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)-led multidisciplinary team approach to incorporate non-opioid and non-pharmacologic modalities to affect self-reported pain and use of prescribed opioids.
A retrospective quality improvement (QI) project was conducted in the multidisciplinary pain (MDP) clinic. The APRN used a biopsychosocial approach for chronic pain management guided by the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle framework. Thirty-four patients who were utilizing opioids for pain management were included using convenience sampling from the MDP clinic. The APRN educated and treated patients with non-opioid medications and non-pharmacolog therapies. A 10-point pain scale and morphine equivalent daily dose (MEDD) were utilized pre- and post-intervention to evaluate the MDP clinic.
Participants were predominantly male (91.8%), with a mean age of 63.18 ± 15.39 years, and 36.4% of whom were retired. Only 20.6% of the participants reported the use of opioids for <12 months. Low back pain (93%) was the most common pain location. The mean baseline MEDD was 41.04 and the post tapered MEDD was 23.05; this revealed a significant decline in MEDD (p < .0001). A decline was also found between pre- and post-pain scores (ranges 0-8). There was a significant reported decline in pain scores with a baseline of 6.11 to post tapering pain of 3.1 (t = 4.99, df = 28, p < .0001). Participants preferred non-opioid medications 94% and non-pharmacologic therapy 86%, like physical therapy, yoga, and acupuncture. Fifty-one percent of patients were referred for injections and 46% were referred to primary care behavior health, which includes pain school, sleep hygiene classes, and cognitive behavior therapy.
APRNs are in a key position to assess and treat patients based on current evidence while facilitating opioid titration. This initiative highlights that safe tapering of opioids is possible when utilizing a multidisciplinary approach for chronic pain management. Findings support the use of non-pharmacologic and non-opioid therapy for chronic pain management which can result in reduced patient-reported pain. Further research is warranted to examine both pharmacologic (non-opioid) and non-pharmacologic strategies that promote pain management while tapering opioids.

Published by Elsevier Inc.

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