Impact of opioid dose escalation on pain intensity: a retrospective cohort study

Corey J. Hayes, Erin E. Krebs, Teresa Hudson, Joshua Brown, Chenghui Li, Bradley C. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Prescribers are often confronted with the decision to escalate opioid doses to achieve adequate analgesia. Understanding the impact of dose escalation on pain intensity is warranted. Using a retrospective cohort study design, Veterans with chronic pain and chronic opioid therapy were identified. Opioid dose escalators (>20% increase in average morphine milligram equivalent daily dose) were compared with dose maintainers (±20% change in average morphine milligram equivalent daily dose) assessed over 2 consecutive 6-month windows. Pain intensity was measured by the Numeric Rating Scale. The primary analyses used linear repeated-measures models among a 1:1 matched sample of escalators and maintainers matched on propensity score and within ±180 days of the index date. Sensitivity analyses were conducted using adjusted linear repeated-measures models with and without incorporating stabilized inverse probability of treatment weighting. There were 32,420 dose maintainers and 20,767 dose escalators identified with 19,358 (93%) matched pairs. Pain scores were persistently higher among dose escalators at each 90-day period after the index date (0-90 days after index date: dose escalators: 4.68, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 4.64-4.72 dose maintainers: 4.32, 95% CI: 4.28-4.36, P < 0.0001; 91-180 days after index date: dose escalators: 4.53, 95% CI: 4.49-4.57; dose maintainers: 4.25, 95% CI: 4.22-4.29, P < 0.0001) but were not different in the 90 days before the index date (dose escalators: 4.64, 95% CI: 4.61-4.68; dose maintainers: 4.59, 95% CI: 4.55-4.63, P = 0.0551). Sensitivity analyses provided similar results as the primary analyses. Opioid dose escalation among patients with chronic pain is not associated with improvements in Numeric Rating Scale pain scores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)979-988
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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