Tapering Long-term Opioid Therapy in Chronic Noncancer Pain: Evidence and Recommendations for Everyday Practice

Mayo Clin Proc. 2015 Jun;90(6):828-42. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.04.003.


Increasing concern about the risks and limited evidence supporting the therapeutic benefit of long-term opioid therapy for chronic noncancer pain are leading prescribers to consider discontinuing the use of opioids. In addition to overt addiction or diversion, the presence of adverse effects, diminishing analgesia, reduced function and quality of life, or the absence of progress toward functional goals can justify an attempt at weaning patients from long-term opioid therapy. However, discontinuing opioid therapy is often hindered by patients' psychiatric comorbidities and poor coping skills, as well as the lack of formal guidelines for the prescribers. The aim of this article is to review the existing literature and formulate recommendations for practitioners aiming to discontinue long-term opioid therapy. Specifically, this review aims to answer the following questions: What is an optimal opioid tapering regimen? How can the risks involved in a taper be managed? What are the alternatives to an opioid taper? A PubMed literature search was conducted using the keywords chronic pain combined with opioid withdrawal, taper, wean and detoxification. Six hundred ninety-five documents were identified and screened; 117 were deemed directly relevant and are included. On the base of this literature review, this article proposes evidence-based recommendations and expert-based suggestions for clinical practice. Furthermore, areas of lack of evidence are identified, providing opportunities for further research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Chronic Pain / etiology
  • Chronic Pain / psychology
  • Humans
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / etiology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / therapy*


  • Analgesics, Opioid