Longitudinal Dose Trajectory Among Patients Tapering Long-Term Opioids

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3 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the dose trajectory of new opioid tapers and estimate the percentage of patients with sustained tapers at long-term follow-up. DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study. SETTING: Data from the OptumLabs Data Warehouse® which includes de-identified medical and pharmacy claims and enrollment records for commercial and Medicare Advantage enrollees, representing a diverse mixture of ages, ethnicities, and geographical regions across the United States. SUBJECTS: Patients prescribed stable, higher-dose opioids for ≥12 months from 2008 to 2018. METHODS: Tapering was defined as ≥15% relative reduction in average MME/day during any of six overlapping 60-day periods in the initial 7 months of follow-up after the period of stable baseline dosing. Average monthly dose was ascertained during consecutive 60-day periods up to 16 months of follow-up. Linear regression estimated the geometric mean relative dose by tapering status and follow-up duration. Poisson regression estimated the percentage of tapered patients with sustained dose reductions at follow-up and patient-level predictors of failing to sustain tapers. RESULTS: The sample included 113,618 patients with 203,920 periods of stable baseline dosing (mean follow-up = 13.7 months). Tapering was initiated during 37,170 follow-up periods (18.2%). After taper initiation, patients had a substantial initial mean dose reduction (geometric mean relative dose .73 [95% CI: .72-.74]) that was sustained through 16 months of follow-up; at which point, 69.8% (95% CI: 69.1%-70.4%) of patients who initiated tapers had a relative dose reduction ≥15%, and 14.2% (95% CI: 13.7%-14.7%) had discontinued opioids. Failure to sustain tapers was significantly less likely among patients with overdose events during follow-up (adjusted incidence rate ratio [aIRR]: .56 [95% CI: .48-.67]) and during more recent years (aIRR: .93 per year after 2008 [95% CI: .92-.94]). CONCLUSIONS: In an insured and Medicare Advantage population, over two-thirds of patients who initiated opioid dose tapering sustained long-term dose reductions, and the likelihood of sustaining tapers increased substantially from 2008 to 2018.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1660-1668
Number of pages9
JournalPain medicine (Malden, Mass.)
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 25 2021


  • Chronic Pain Management
  • Opioid Analgesics
  • Pharmacoepidemiology
  • Practice Patterns
  • Retrospective Studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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