Opioid Tapering in Fibromyalgia Patients: Experience from an Interdisciplinary Pain Rehabilitation Program

Pain Med. 2016 Sep;17(9):1676-85. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnv079. Epub 2016 Jan 11.


Objective: Despite current guideline recommendations against the use of opioids for the treatment of fibromyalgia pain, opioid use is reported in approximately 30% of the patient population. There is a lack of information describing the process and results of tapering of chronic opioids. The purpose of this study is to describe opioid tapering and withdrawal symptoms in fibromyalgia patients on opioids.

Design, setting, and subjects: This retrospective research study included a baseline analysis of 159 patients consecutively admitted to the Mayo Clinic Pain Rehabilitation Center from 2006 through 2012 with a pain diagnosis of fibromyalgia completing a 3-week outpatient interdisciplinary pain rehabilitation program. Opioid tapering analysis included 55 (35%) patients using daily opioids.

Methods: Opioid tapering was individualized to each patient based on interdisciplinary pain rehabilitation team determination. Opioid withdrawal symptoms were assessed daily, utilizing the Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Scale.

Results: Patients taking daily opioids had a morphine equivalent mean dose of 99 mg/day. Patients on < 100 mg/day were tapered off over a mean of 10 days compared with patients on > 200 mg/day over a mean of 28 days (P < 0.001). Differences in peak withdrawal symptoms were not statistically significant based on the mean equivalent dose (P = 22). Patients taking opioids for <2 years did not differ in length of tapering (P =0.63) or peak COWS score (P =0.80) compared with >2 years duration. Patients had significant improvements in pain-related measures including numeric pain scores, depression catastrophizing, health perception, interference with life, and perceived life control at program completion.

Conclusion: Fibromyalgia patients on higher doses of opioids were tapered off over a longer period of time but no differences in withdrawal symptoms were seen based on opioid dose. Duration of opioid use did not affect the time to complete opioid taper or withdrawal symptoms. Despite opioid tapering, pain-related measures improved at the completion of the rehabilitation program.

Keywords: Fibromyalgia; Opioids; Pain Management; Rehabilitation Medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Substitution / methods*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / drug therapy*
  • Fibromyalgia / etiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / etiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid