Cover: Rapid Discontinuation of Chronic, High-Dose Opioid Treatment for Pain

Rapid Discontinuation of Chronic, High-Dose Opioid Treatment for Pain

Prevalence and Associated Factors

Published in: Journal of General Internal Medicine (2021). doi: 10.1007/s11606-021-07119-3

Posted on Jan 26, 2022

by Bradley D. Stein, Tisamarie B. Sherry, Brenna O'Neill, Erin Audrey Taylor, Mark J. Sorbero


To examine the prevalence of rapid discontinuation of chronic, high-dose opioid analgesic treatment, and identify associated patient, clinician, and community factors.


Using 2017–2018 retail pharmacy claims data from IQVIA, we identified chronic, high-dose opioid analgesic treatment episodes discontinued during these years and determined the percent of episodes meeting criteria for rapid discontinuation. We used multivariable logistic regression to estimate the probability of rapid discontinuation, conditional on having a discontinued chronic, high-dose opioid treatment episode, as a function of patient, provider, and county characteristics.


We identified 810,120 new, chronic, high-dose opioid treatment episodes discontinued in 2017 or 2018, of which 72.0% (n=583,415) were rapidly discontinued. Rapid discontinuation was significantly more likely among Medicare (aOR 1.14, 95% CI 1.12 to 1.15) and Medicaid enrollees (aOR 1.03, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.05) compared to the commercially insured; in counties with higher fatal overdose rates (aOR 1.03, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.04) compared to counties with the lowest fatal overdose rates; and in counties with a higher percentage of non-white residents (aOR 1.21 for counties in the highest quartile relative to the lowest, 95% CI 1.19 to 1.24). Likelihood of rapid discontinuation also varied by prescriber specialty.


Most chronic, high-dose opioid treatment episodes that ended in 2017 or 2018 were discontinued more rapidly than recommended by clinical guidelines, raising concerns about adverse patient outcomes. Our findings highlight the need to understand what drives discontinuation and to inform safer opioid tapering and discontinuation practices.

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