skip to page content
Talk to the Veterans Crisis Line now
U.S. flag
An official website of the United States government

Health Systems Research

Go to the VA ORD website
Go to the QUERI website

SDR 21-107 – HSR Study

SDR 21-107
Diagnosing and Treating Veterans with Chronic Pain and Opioid Misuse
Pooja Aggarwal Lagisetty, MD MSc
VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, Ann Arbor, MI
Ann Arbor, MI
Funding Period: January 2022 - December 2025


Background: As many as 30% of the ~10 million Americans prescribed long-term opioid therapy (LTOT) are estimated to misuse opioids. Receiving LTOT is associated with opioid-related harms, and misuse leads to an increase in the dose consumed and other risky behavior, further worsening outcomes. However, there is a gap in knowledge on how to identify and treat this patient population particularly when they do not meet diagnostic criteria to be treated by medications for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). In recent years, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) have effected widespread tapering to reduce misuse. Buprenorphine, a medication used for both pain and OUD, may also be effective in reducing opioid-related harms while controlling pain for patients on LTOT with misuse; however, buprenorphine is yet to be tested rigorously in this patient population. Therefore, studies are needed to identify patients on LTOT with misuse and to compare the efficacy of different treatments on patient outcomes. Significance: Chronic pain, LTOT for pain, and opioid misuse are common among Veterans and lead to multiple health-related harms. The VHA has made improving pain care and reducing opioid harms a major priority of clinical initiatives, and this proposal responds to the Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) Funding Announcement #HX-21-024 to address those opioid-related priorities. By filling a crucial evidence gap, this proposal will significantly impact the way we treat pain and minimize harm for Veterans with opioid misuse. Innovation and Impact: This proposal is innovative and impactful in many ways. First, this project will utilize the unique capabilities of the VHA’s Corporate Data Warehouse (CDW) to develop a novel algorithm to identify patients on LTOT with misuse. If successful, this automated identification process has the potential to be scaled to VHA sites across the country. Second, the comparative effectiveness of different treatments will be determined by an emulated trial, an innovative and efficient study design that can lead to greater generalizability than standard trials, which suffer significantly from selection bias in this area. The treatments being evaluated in the emulated trial are readily available, so if specific treatments are found to improve patient symptoms and reduce adverse outcomes, it will be feasible for Veterans with opioid misuse to access these treatments nationwide. Finally, we will gather feedback from providers and Veterans to understand the best strategies and interventions to scale the identification process and better inform Veterans and providers of evidence-based treatment options. Specific Aims: This project aims to 1) Classify a cohort of patients on LTOT with opioid misuse but without OUD by a) building on a previously developed augmented chart review methodology and b) applying an algorithm to structured data; 2) Conduct an emulated trial to compare the effectiveness of pharmacologic treatment options on patient-centered and patient safety outcomes; and 3) Understand current practices and how to translate our findings into improved care via semi-structured interviews with providers and Veterans. Methodology: The study population is VHA patients on LTOT with opioid misuse 2014-present. The proposal uses mixed quantitative and qualitative methods including augmented structured chart review, large dataset classification using ordinal elastic net regression, emulated trials, and qualitative interviews. Next Steps/Implementation: We expect findings to be of use to VHA leaders, prescribing clinicians, and patients with chronic pain. If successful, the automated identification process from Aim 1 could be scaled to VHA sites, and if treatments evaluated in Aim 2 are effective in improving symptoms and reducing adverse outcomes, these could also be implemented widely. In Aim 3, we will gather Veteran input on how to best implement findings from Aims 1 and Aim 2 into clinical practice in a variety of settings.

External Links for this Project

NIH Reporter

Grant Number: I01HX003411-01

Dimensions for VA

Dimensions for VA is a web-based tool available to VA staff that enables detailed searches of published research and research projects.

Learn more about Dimensions for VA.

VA staff not currently on the VA network can access Dimensions by registering for an account using their VA email address.
    Search Dimensions for this project


Journal Articles

  1. Lagisetty P, Garpestad C, Larkin A, Macleod C, Antoku D, Slat S, Thomas J, Powell V, Bohnert ASB, Lin LA. Identifying individuals with opioid use disorder: Validity of International Classification of Diseases diagnostic codes for opioid use, dependence and abuse. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2021 Apr 1; 221:108583. [view]
  2. Powell VD, Macleod C, Sussman J, Lin LA, Bohnert ASB, Lagisetty P. Variation in Clinical Characteristics and Longitudinal Outcomes in Individuals with Opioid Use Disorder Diagnosis Codes. Journal of general internal medicine. 2023 Feb 1; 38(3):699-706. [view]

DRA: Substance Use Disorders
DRE: TRL - Applied/Translational
Keywords: Clinical Diagnosis and Screening, Computational Modeling, Guideline Development and Implementation
MeSH Terms: None at this time.

Questions about the HSR website? Email the Web Team

Any health information on this website is strictly for informational purposes and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any condition.