A Primary Care-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Intervention for Long-Term Opioid Users With Chronic Pain : A Randomized Pragmatic Trial

Ann Intern Med. 2022 Jan;175(1):46-55. doi: 10.7326/M21-1436. Epub 2021 Nov 2.


Background: Chronic pain is common, disabling, and costly. Few clinical trials have examined cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) interventions embedded in primary care settings to improve chronic pain among those receiving long-term opioid therapy.

Objective: To determine the effectiveness of a group-based CBT intervention for chronic pain.

Design: Pragmatic, cluster randomized controlled trial. (ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT02113592).

Setting: Kaiser Permanente health care systems in Georgia, Hawaii, and the Northwest.

Participants: Adults (aged ≥18 years) with mixed chronic pain conditions receiving long-term opioid therapy.

Intervention: A CBT intervention teaching pain self-management skills in 12 weekly, 90-minute groups delivered by an interdisciplinary team (behaviorist, nurse, physical therapist, and pharmacist) versus usual care.

Measurements: Self-reported pain impact (primary outcome, as measured by the PEGS scale [pain intensity and interference with enjoyment of life, general activity, and sleep]) was assessed quarterly over 12 months. Pain-related disability, satisfaction with care, and opioid and benzodiazepine use based on electronic health care data were secondary outcomes.

Results: A total of 850 patients participated, representing 106 clusters of primary care providers (mean age, 60.3 years; 67.4% women); 816 (96.0%) completed follow-up assessments. Intervention patients sustained larger reductions on all self-reported outcomes from baseline to 12-month follow-up; the change in PEGS score was -0.434 point (95% CI, -0.690 to -0.178 point) for pain impact, and the change in pain-related disability was -0.060 point (CI, -0.084 to -0.035 point). At 6 months, intervention patients reported higher satisfaction with primary care (difference, 0.230 point [CI, 0.053 to 0.406 point]) and pain services (difference, 0.336 point [CI, 0.129 to 0.543 point]). Benzodiazepine use decreased more in the intervention group (absolute risk difference, -0.055 [CI, -0.099 to -0.011]), but opioid use did not differ significantly between groups.

Limitation: The inclusion of only patients with insurance in large integrated health care systems limited generalizability, and the clinical effect of change in scores is unclear.

Conclusion: Primary care-based CBT, using frontline clinicians, produced modest but sustained reductions in measures of pain and pain-related disability compared with usual care but did not reduce use of opioid medication.

Primary funding source: National Institutes of Health.

Publication types

  • Pragmatic Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Self-Management


  • Analgesics, Opioid

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02113592