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IIR 19-431 – HSR Study

IIR 19-431
Optimizing Pain Management in End-Stage Renal Disease Among Veterans (OPERA-Vets):Balancing Benefits and Harms of Opioids
Melissa W Wachterman, MD
VA Boston Healthcare System Jamaica Plain Campus, Jamaica Plain, MA
Boston, MA
Funding Period: July 2021 - June 2025


Background: Over the past decade, VA has implemented opioid policies, most notably the 2013 Opioid Safety Initiative, designed to address the burgeoning opioid crisis. As the pendulum has swung away from opioid prescribing, it is possible that some patients with serious illness may have experienced unintended consequences, including uncontrolled pain, even while others may have avoided potential complications of opioid use. This project examines the potential impact of these policies on Veterans with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), a population of approximately 35,000 Veterans for whom balancing the benefits and harms of opioids may be particularly challenging. These Veterans have very limited life expectancy and a substantial pain burden, comparable to Veterans with metastatic cancer, but often under-appreciated. They are at increased risk of opioid-related serious adverse events (SAE; e.g. opioid overdose). Yet compared with other seriously-ill populations, they have fewer non-opioid analgesic alternatives to fall back on and may face barriers to non-pharmacologic pain management strategies. Moreover, most Veterans with ESRD receive dialysis in the community either under VA Community Care or Medicare, exposing them to the potential adverse impact of care fragmentation on opioid safety and pain control. Significance/Impact: Understanding the impact of VA initiatives to improve opioid safety at the population level on Veterans with serious illness is critical to the VA’s commitment to ensure that these vulnerable Veterans are provided care that relieves distressing symptoms. The work proposed here is responsive to the VA Under Secretary for Health’s priority to improve pain management and the safety of pain medications. Innovation: The proposed study is the first to examine the impact of opioid safety initiatives and prescribing guidelines on a group of seriously-ill Veterans. It leverages VA data that include rich measures of pain control unavailable from any other national data source. The use of a sequential explanatory mixed-methods study design to triangulate quantitative and qualitative findings on pain management in the context of contemporary opioid policy is a novel contribution to the field of opioid research. Specific Aims: 1) Examine changes in pain management strategies, opioid-related SAE, and pain control among Veterans with ESRD from 2010-2018; 2) Compare changes in opioid-related SAE by setting of dialysis (VA, VA-Community Care, Medicare) from 2010-2018; 3) Elicit the perspectives and experiences of Veterans with ESRD and the clinicians who care for them related to pain management in the context of VA opioid safety initiatives in order to inform policy and practice. Methodology: The study employs a sequential explanatory mixed-methods design. The quantitative portion of the study (Aims 1 and 2) includes Veterans on dialysis across all VAs between 2010 and 2018. We will conduct an interrupted time series analysis of linked VA, Medicare, and USRDS data to examine whether Veterans with ESRD have had changes in pain therapies (opioids, non-opioids, non-pharmacologic), opioid- related serious adverse, and pain, overall and by setting of dialysis, over time since the 2013 OSI. We will then conduct semi-structured interviews with Veterans with ESRD and VA clinicians who care for ESRD patients to identify opportunities for improvement in VA pain management policy and practice (Aim 3). Implementation/Next Steps: We will work with our Advisory Board of operational partners, to ensure that our research will inform policy about how to optimally align opioid safety initiatives and pain management guidelines to meet the needs of Veterans with ESRD and those with other serious illnesses. We will collaborate with the Board to develop a ‘roadmap” that will summarize our key findings, identify implications for policy and clinical care, and identify priorities for future clinical and policy intervention intended to optimize pain control for Veterans with ESRD. This roadmap can likely be adapted for other groups of seriously-ill Veterans.

External Links for this Project

NIH Reporter

Grant Number: I01HX003282-01A1

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Journal Articles

  1. Wang V, Zepel L, Diamantidis CJ, Smith VA, Scholle SH, Maciejewski ML. Annual wellness visits and care management before and after dialysis initiation. BMC nephrology. 2021 May 5; 22(1):164. [view]
  2. Boucher NA, Zullig LL, Shepherd-Banigan M, Decosimo KP, Dadolf J, Choate A, Mahanna EP, Sperber NR, Wang V, Allen KA, Hastings SN, Van Houtven CH. Replicating an effective VA program to train and support family caregivers: a hybrid type III effectiveness-implementation design. BMC health services research. 2021 May 6; 21(1):430. [view]
  3. Sloan CE, Coffman CJ, Sanders LL, Maciejewski ML, Lee SD, Hirth RA, Wang V. Trends in Regional Supply of Peritoneal Dialysis in an Era of Health Reform, 2006 to 2013. Medical care research and review : MCRR. 2021 Jun 1; 78(3):281-290. [view]
  4. Hughes JM, Bartle JT, Choate AL, Mahanna EP, Meyer CL, Tucker MC, Wang V, Allen KD, Van Houtven CH, Hastings SN. Walking All over COVID-19: The Rapid Development of , an Innovative Approach to Enhance a Hospital-Based Walking Program during the Pandemic. Geriatrics (Basel, Switzerland). 2021 Nov 10; 6(4). [view]

DRA: Substance Use Disorders, Kidney Disorders
DRE: TRL - Applied/Translational
Keywords: Quality of Care, Quality of Life, Symptom Management
MeSH Terms: None at this time.

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