New treatment helps people stop addictive opioid painkillers used for chronic pain

May 24, 2023
Program of combined one-to-one and group support sessions was tested in clinical trial.

Researchers at the University of Warwick and The James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough have led a clinical trial, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), on a new treatment which can help people stop needing to use opioid painkillers to manage chronic pain.

A team of researchers and clinicians have developed and successfully trialed an intervention program designed to guide people in coming off prescription painkillers, taper their opioid intake and learn how to manage their pain using alternative techniques with a course which combines one-to-one and group support.

The study, titled I-WOTCH (Improving the Wellbeing of people with Opioid Treated Chronic Pain), found that the intervention program helped 1 in 5 people come off their opioids within one year, without substituting medication and without making their pain worse.

Over 600 people took part in the randomized controlled study between 2017 and 2020 who at the beginning of the trial had been regularly taking strong opioids for at least three months. The participants were recruited from GP practices from the North East of England and the Midlands.

The study compared two treatments, dividing participants randomly into two groups. One group had access to their existing GP care, plus a self-help booklet and relaxation CD; the second group had the same and also took part in an intervention program specially developed by the study team.

The intervention program included sessions on coping techniques, stress management, goal setting, mindfulness, posture and movement advice, how to manage any withdrawal symptoms and pain control after opioids.

Participants completed questionnaires about their everyday functioning and painkiller intake at intervals throughout the trial.

After one year, 29 per cent of people who took part in the intervention program were able to fully come off their opioids completely, compared to just 7 per cent who were treated with existing GP care, the self-help booklet and CD.

There was no difference between the two groups in terms of their pain, or how pain interfered with their lives.

University of Warwick release on Newswise