We, the undersigned, stand as a unified community of stakeholders and key opinion leaders deeply concerned about forced opioid tapering in patients receiving long-term prescription opioid therapy for chronic pain.
This is a large-scale humanitarian issue.
As happy as I am to see this declaration, even long after the opioid prescribing guidelines were weaponized to force opioid tapers, I’m appalled that it took 2.5 years of entirely foreseeable consequences for all these doctors to finally speak up.
There’s an impressively long list of signatories to this document, including several that have been vocally pushing for the very restrictions they now call a “large-scale humanitarian issue”. I’m stunned at the hypocrisy.
Our specific concerns involve:
- rapid, forced opioid tapering among outpatients;
- mandated opioid tapers that require aggressive opioid dose reductions over a defined period, even when that period is an extended one.
Opioid tapering guidelines were created, in part, to decrease harm to patients resulting from high-dose opioid therapy for chronic pain.
Since the guideline was written by fervent anti-opioid activists from the addiction-recovery industry, I have my doubts about the true goals of this policy: CDC Opioid Guideline: Unintended Consequences?
However, countless “legacy patients” with chronic pain who were progressively escalated to high opioid doses, often over many years, now face additional and very serious risks resulting from rapid tapering or related policies that mandate extreme dose reductions that are aggressive and unrealistic.
Rapid forced tapering can destabilize these patients, precipitating severe opioid withdrawal accompanied by worsening pain and profound loss of function.
To escape the resultant suffering, some patients may seek relief from illicit (and inherently more dangerous) sources of opioids, whereas others may become acutely suicidal.
Regardless of one’s view on the advisability of high-dose opioid therapy, every thoughtful clinician recognizes rapid tapering as a genuine threat to a large number of patients who are often medically complex and vulnerable.
So why have so many “thoughtful clinicians” gone along with this genocidal policy? Because “my boss told me to”? Because everyone else was doing it? Sound familiar?…
Indeed, even slower tapers should include realistic, patient-centered goals that are achievable and account for individual patient factors.
New and grave risks now exist because of forced opioid tapering: an alarming increase in reports of patient suffering and suicides within and outside of the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in the United States.
Reports suggest that forced tapering is also occurring in patients on opioid doses below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Opioid Guideline threshold of 90 morphine equivalent daily dose. These patients too are at risk of harm from overly aggressive tapering.
Patients on legacy opioid prescriptions require different considerations and careful attention to the methods by which opioid tapers might be considered and implemented.
Currently, no data exist to support forced, community-based opioid tapering to drastically low levels without exposing patients to potentially life-threatening harms.
No data exist because this was never a medically sound policy, merely politically expedient and very, very lucrative for the addiction-recovery industry.
Existing data that support rapid reductions of opioid doses—often to zero—were conducted in highly structured, supportive, interdisciplinary, inpatient settings or “detox” programs in which medications and other approaches were used to minimize the symptoms of withdrawal
Currently, nonconsensual tapering policies are being enacted throughout the country without careful systems that attend to patient safety. The methods by which a taper is conducted matter greatly.
This was never about patients.
It was about a “quick fix” invented by people ignorant about pain management. Pain cannot be quantified and given the alarming numbers this scourge deserves, but milligrams of opioids can be easily measured and tracked, thus becoming an easy target metric.
As they say in management training, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” and, since health policy is now in the hands of corporate management, they only focus on the numbers.
Patients are just a collection of numerical data points to be manipulated to produce the maximum profit.
We therefore call for an urgent review of mandated opioid tapering policies for outpatients at every level of health care—including prescribing, pharmacy, and insurance policies—and across borders, to minimize the iatrogenic harm that ensues from aggressive opioid tapering policies and practices.
I don’t understand how, after over two years, it’s suddenly “urgent” to review these cruel policies. This has been so urgent for so long that countless patients have committed suicide after they were denied relief from literally unbearable pain.
Almost 18 million Americans are currently taking long-term prescription opioids.
We ask the Department of Health and Human Services to consider the following to mitigate harms in this special, at-risk population
- Provide compassionate systems for opioid tapering, if indicated; that includes careful selection, patient-centered methods, close monitoring, triaging of adverse events, and realistic end-dose goals that are evidence-based and derived from applicable outpatient tapering data.
- Convene patient advisory boards at all levels of decision-making to ensure that patient-centered systems are developed and patient rights are protected within the context of pain care.
- Require inclusion of pain management specialists at every level of decision-making about future opioid policies and guidelines.
In standing as a unified community of concerned scientists, experts, citizens, and leaders of pain organizations in our respective countries, we call for the development and implementation of policies that are humane, compassionate, patient-centered, and evidence-based in order to minimize iatrogenic harms and protect patients taking long-term prescription opioids.