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Varying opioid dosage increases overdose risk

While tapering patients taking prescription opioids off of the medication is associated with a lower risk of overdose if the patient stops taking the drug, it can also lead to increased risks of overdose if it leads to the patient switching up dosages, according to a new JAMA study.

Why it matters: This is yet another obstacle to solving the opioid epidemic, and shows how the best intentions can be dangerous: Even trying to get patients to quit taking legal opioids can backfire and lead to overdose.

  • The study found that changing a patient's opioid dosage increased the risk of overdose. But it also found that discontinuation of opioids reduced the risk.
  • Patients often take decreasing dosages of a drug as a way of weaning themselves off of it. But sometimes, if they begin to go through withdrawal or their pain increases, the patient could then ask for a dose increase or seek opioids elsewhere.

Go deeper: Lowering prescription opioid misuse won't stop the opioid crisis