Each year, more than 300 patients with chronic pain take part in a three-week program at the Pain Rehabilitation Center at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Their complaints range widely, from specific problems such as intractable lower-back pain to systemic issues such as fibromyalgia. By the time patients enroll, many have tried just about everything to get their chronic pain under control. Half are taking opioids.
But in this 40-year-old program, they can’t stay on them. Participants must agree to taper off pain medications during their time at Mayo.
Still, more than 80 percent of the patients who enroll remain through the entire program, says Wesley Gilliam, the center’s clinical director. And many previous opioid users who finish the treatment report six months later that they have been able to stay off those drugs. Just as important, he adds, they have learned strategies to deal with their pain.