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Are opioids effective analgesics and is physiological opioid dependence benign?: Revising current assumptions to effectively manage long-term opioid therapy and its’ deprescribing
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  • Ajay Manhapra ,
  • Ross Maclean,
  • Robert Rosenheck,
  • William Becker
Ajay Manhapra
Yale School of Medicine

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Ross Maclean
VA Connecticut Healthcare System
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Robert Rosenheck
VA Connecticut Healthcare System
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William Becker
Yale University Department of Internal Medicine
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A reexamination of clinical principles of long-term opioid therapy (LTOT) for chronic pain is long overdue amid the ongoing opioid crisis. Most patients on LTOT report ineffectiveness (poor pain control, function, and health), but still find deprescribing challenging. Although prescribed as analgesics, opioids more likely provide pain relief primarily through reward system actions (enhanced relief and motivation) and placebo effect and less through anti-nociceptive effects. The unavoidable physiologic LTOT dependence can automatically lead to a paradoxical worsening of pain, disability, and medical instability (maladaptive opioid dependence) without addiction due to allostatic opponent neuroadaptations involving reward/anti-reward and nociceptive/anti-nociceptive systems. This opioid induced chronic pain syndrome (OICP) can persist/progress whether LTOT dose is maintained at the same level, increased, decreased, or discontinued. Current conceptualization of LTOT as a straightforward long-term analgesic therapy appears incongruous in view of the complex mechanisms of opioid action, LTOT dependence and OICP. LTOT can be more appropriately conceptualized as therapeutic induction and maintenance of an adaptive LTOT dependence for functional improvement irrespective of analgesic benefits. Adaptive LTOT dependence should be ideally used for a limited time to achieve maximum functional recovery and deprescribed while maintaining functional gains. Patients on LTOT should be regularly reevaluated to identify if maladaptive LTOT dependence with OICP has diminished any functional gains or lead to ineffectiveness. Ineffective LTOT (with maladaptive LTOT dependence) should be modified to make it safer and more effective. An adequately functional life without opioids is the ideal healthy long-term goal for both LTOT initiation and LTOT modification.
01 Oct 2023Submitted to British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology
02 Oct 2023Submission Checks Completed
02 Oct 2023Assigned to Editor
02 Oct 2023Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
03 Oct 2023Reviewer(s) Assigned
01 Nov 2023Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
10 Nov 20231st Revision Received
10 Nov 2023Submission Checks Completed
10 Nov 2023Assigned to Editor
10 Nov 2023Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
14 Nov 2023Editorial Decision: Accept