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Impact of changes in opioid funding and clinical policies on rapid tapering of opioids in Ontario, Canada

Martins D, Khuu W, Tadrous M, Greaves S, Sproule B, Bozinoff N, Juurlink DN, Mamdani MM, Paterson JM, Gomes T. Pain. 2021; Jul 28 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI:

Reports have emerged of abrupt tapering among recipients of long-term prescription opioids to conform to new prescribing guidelines. We conducted a population-based, repeated cross-sectional time-series study among very high-dose (≥200 MME) opioid recipients in Ontario, Canada, to examine changes in the monthly prevalence of rapid tapering from 2014 to 2018, defined as recipients experiencing either a ≥50% reduction in daily doses or abrupt discontinuation sustained for 30 days. Interventional autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) models were used to test for significant changes following key guidelines, and drug policies and programs. A sensitivity analysis examined rapid tapering sustained for 90 days. The monthly prevalence of rapid tapering events was stable from January 2014 to September 2016 (average monthly prevalence: 1.4%), but increased from 1.4% in October 2016 to 1.8% in April 2017 (p=0.001), coincident with Ontario's Fentanyl Patch-for-Patch Return Program implementation. Transient spikes in the prevalence of rapid tapering also occurred two months following Ontario's delisting of publicly funded high-strength opioids and the release of updated Canadian Opioid Prescribing Guideline for Chronic Pain, reaching 2.3% in March 2017 and July 2017, respectively. However this prevalence decreased to 1.2% in December 2018 (p<.0001). Although the prevalence of abrupt opioid discontinuation was lower, similar trends were observed. Our sensitivity analysis examining longer-lasting rapid tapering found similar trends but lower prevalence, with no changes in complete discontinuation. These temporary increases in rapid tapering events highlight the need for improved communication and evidence-based resources for prescribers to minimize negative consequences of evolving policies and guidelines.

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