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Clin J Pain. 2013 Sep;29(9):760-9. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31827c7cf6.

Low pain intensity after opioid withdrawal as a first step of a comprehensive pain rehabilitation program predicts long-term nonuse of opioids in chronic noncancer pain.

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Department of Pain Medicine, Berufsgenossenschaftliches Universitätsklinikum Bergmannsheil GmbH Bochum, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany.



In specialized pain clinics there is an increasing number of patients with severe chronic noncancer pain (CNCP) despite long-term opioid medication. Few clinical studies show short-term pain relief after opioid withdrawal (OW). We have evaluated the relation between pain intensity after OW and long-term opioid nonuse.


One hundred two consecutive patients with severe CNCP despite opioid medication (mean treatment duration, 43 mo) reported pain intensity (numerical rating scale, 0 to 10), Pain Disability Index, mood (CES-D), and quality of life (Short Form 36) before, shortly, and 12 to 24 months after inpatient OW. Total opioid withdrawal (n = 78) or significant dose reduction (DR; n = 24, mean reduction, 82%) was performed after individual decision. Opioid intake 12 to 24 months later, respectively dose increase ≥ 100% (DR group), was considered relapse. T tests, multivariable analysis of variance, logistic regression.


After OW current pain intensity significantly decreased on an average by 41% (6.4 ± 2.4 vs. 3.8 ± 2.5), maximal and average pain by 18% and 24%, respectively. Twelve to 24 months later 42 patients (41%) relapsed (31 of the total opioid withdrawal group, 6 of the DR group, 5 lost). Patients without later relapse showed significantly lower pain scores than the later relapsed patients already shortly after OW (5.0 ± 2.2 vs. 5.9 ± 2.1) and 12 to 24 months later (5.5 ± 2.4 vs. 6.5 ± 2.0). There was a significant relation between relapse probability and pain intensity immediately after OW.


In many patients with severe CNCP, despite opioid medication, sustainable pain relief can be achieved if OW is included in the rehabilitation program. Consequently, we recommend OW for opioid-resistant CNCP before any opioid escalation. Lower pain intensity shortly after OW may predict the long-term opioid nonuse probability.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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