FILE - This June 17, 2019, file photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone.
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FILE - This June 17, 2019, file photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone.
Credit: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

Chronic pain patients at risk of overdose when they stop pain killers

The risk of using opiods is well studied, and now researchers are learning more about the risks to stopping.

A new study from UW Medicine finds chronic pain patients who stop using opioids are at significant risk for overdose.

Researchers followed nearly 600 patients over five years at Harborview Medical Center. They found that those who stopped using the drugs were three times more likely to die of an overdose in the years that followed.

Dr. Joe Merrill, a UW associate professor of medicine and one of the study’s authors, said prescribers are aware of the risks of taking this medication, but some may not understand the risks of stopping.

“It’s important to highlight that the patient population as a whole, patients with chronic pain who are on long term therapy, are a very vulnerable group,” Merrill said.

He said he hopes this study helps prescribers identify patients who may need more support.

“And if they do exhibit safety problems during their prescribing, we really need to support them better, including providing opiate use disorder treatment for them," he said.

That could include opiate replacements like Suboxone or buprenorphine. The study is the third published this year to look at the risks of stopping opioids.

(Note: Opioids and opiates are similar pain medications; opioids are man-made and opiates are naturally derived).

The study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.