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UW study: Patients coming off opioids for pain 3 times more likely to die from overdose

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

A new UW study found a distressing outcome for the medical community’s approach to opioid addiction. Patients coming off opioids for pain were three times more likely in the year afterwards to die from an overdose.

“We are worried by these results, because they suggest that the policy recommendations intended to make opioid prescribing safer are not working as intended,” said lead author Jocelyn James, assistant professor of medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “We have to make sure we develop systems to protect patients.”

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The study comes on the heels of a trend in the industry to reduce opiod prescribing, as there’s not a great deal of information about the real life implications. It looked at 572 patients involved with opioid therapy to mitigate chronic pain. The therapy was discontinued in 344 patients, and during the study period “119 registry patients died (20.8%); 21 patients died of a definitive or possible overdose. Of these, 17 were patients who stopped using chronic opioid therapy and four were patients being seen at a clinic.”

Researchers concluded that discontinuing chronic opioid therapy led to increased risk of death during the study, and recommend other forms of pain management and treatment of opioid-use disorder for this higher-risk group.

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Previous studies have looked into the issue. The FDA recently issued a warning that stopping opioids can present a risk to patients, and a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that of the patients who were receiving high doses and had those doses ended in a day, numerous ended up in the emergency ward.

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