The 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain (Guideline hereafter) emphasized tapering patients from long-term opioid therapy (LTOT) when the harms outweigh the benefits.
To examine tapering from LTOT before and after the Guideline release, we conducted a retrospective cohort study of adults with high-dose LTOT (mean of >50 Morphine Milligram Equivalents [MME]/day) from 2014 to 2018 from one Midwest state’s Health Information Exchange. We identified tapering (dose reductions in mean MME/day greater than 15%, 30%, 50%) and rapid discontinuation episodes (reduction to zero MME/day) over a 6-month follow-up period relative to a 3-month baseline period. We used segmented regressions to estimate outcomes adjusted for time trends and relevant state laws limiting opioid prescribing.
The Guideline release was associated with statistically significant immediate increase in the patient likelihood of experiencing tapering (15%: 1.8% point [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.2-2.6; 30%: 1.4% point, 95% CI: 0.7-2.2; 50%: 0.8% point, 95% CI: 0.2-1.4) and rapid discontinuation episodes (0.006% point, 95% CI: 0.001-0.01). After the Guideline release, the patient likelihood of tapering increased over time (15%: 0.4% point/month, 95% CI: 0.3-0.5; 30%: 0.3% point/month, 95% CI:0.2-0.4; 50%: 0.3% point/month, 95% CI: 0.2-0.3; rapid discontinuation: 0.01% point/month, 95% CI: 0.007-0.01). Tapering and rapid discontinuation trends was similar among gender and race categories.
The Guideline may be a useful tool in altering opioid prescribing practices, particularly for patients on shorter durations of LTOT.

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