UK researchers have embarked on a study testing how structured group support can help GP patients reduce their reliance on strong painkillers and improve their quality of life.
The study will be carried out by researchers at the University of Warwick and The James Cook University Hospital and will look at just under 500 patients recruited from primary care who have been using strong opioids for three months or longer for non-cancer chronic pain.
Patients will be assigned to receive either: standard care from their GP plus an information booklet and relaxation CD; or standard care plus access to a support programme lead by a research nurse and a trained lay person who suffers from chronic pain but has reduced their opioid use.
The support programme, carried out in a group setting, will include coping techniques, stress management, advice on posture and movement and mindfulness.
Both groups will complete a diary for four months to provide details about withdrawal from painkillers and quality of life. Researchers will also collect questionnaires about daily living and pain severity from the patients at different stages throughout the study.
Dr Harbinder Sandhu, lead researcher at associate professor at Warwick Medical School, said: ‘Structured, group-based, psycho-educational self-management interventions help people to better manage their daily lives with a long-term condition, including persistent pain, but few of these have specifically targeted patients considering opioid withdrawal.’
‘There are substantial potential benefits to individuals and to the health and social care system from reducing opioid use. Despite an overwhelming message of restraint, opioid prescribing continues to increase. This is in spite of guidelines on the prescription of opioids being produced in many countries including the British Pain Society guidelines Opioids for Persistent Pain Good Practice.‘
GPs were warned in 2017 that rates of opioid prescribing had soared in recent years and that they needed to do more to spot and manage opioid abuse and addiction.
Research published last December called for shorter opioid prescriptions after results showed that patients on opioids had the worst cardiometabolic and sleep profiles of patients taking analgesics for chronic pain.