There are significant medical risks of long-term opioid therapy (LTOT) for chronic pain. Consequently, there is a need to identify effective interventions for the reduction of high-dose full-agonist opioid medication use.
The current study details a retrospective review of 240 patients with chronic pain and LTOT presenting for treatment at a specialty opioid refill clinic. Patients first were initiated on an outpatient taper or, if taper was not tolerated, transitioned to buprenorphine. This study analyzes potential predictors of successful tapering, successful buprenorphine transition, or failure to complete either intervention and the effects of this clinical approach on pain intensity scores.
One hundred seven patients (44.6%) successfully tapered their opioid medications under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline target dose (90 mg morphine-equianalgesic dosage), 45 patients (18.8%) were successfully transitioned to buprenorphine, and 88 patients (36.6%) dropped out of treatment: 11 patients during taper, eight during buprenorphine transition, and 69 before initiating either treatment. Conclusions. Higher initial doses of opioids predicted a higher likelihood of requiring buprenorphine transition, and a co-occurring benzodiazepine or z-drug prescription predicted a greater likelihood of dropout from both interventions. Patterns of change in pain intensity according to treatment were mixed: among successfully tapered patients, 52.8% reported greater pain and 23.6% reported reduced pain, whereas 41.8% reported increased pain intensity and 48.8% reported decreased pain after buprenorphine transition. Further research is needed on predictors of treatment retention and dropout, as well as factors that may mitigate elevated pain scores after reduction of opioid dosing.

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