Background Amid the ongoing U.S. opioid crisis, achieving safe and effective chronic pain management while reducing opioid-related morbidity and mortality is likely to require multi-level efforts across health systems, including the Military Health System (MHS), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and civilian sectors. Objective We conducted a series of qualitative panel discussions with national experts to identify core challenges and elicit recommendations toward improving the safety of opioid prescribing in the U.S. Design We invited national experts to participate in qualitative panel discussions regarding challenges in opioid risk mitigation and how best to support providers in delivery of safe and effective opioid prescribing across MHS, VA, and civilian health systems. Participants Eighteen experts representing primary care, emergency medicine, psychology, pharmacy, and public health/policy participated Approach Six qualitative panel discussions were conducted via teleconference with experts. Transcripts were coded using team-based qualitative content analysis to identify key challenges and recommendations in opioid risk mitigation. Key results Panelists provided insight into challenges across multiple levels of the U.S. health system, including the technical complexity of treating chronic pain, the fraught national climate around opioids, the need to integrate surveillance data across a fragmented U.S. health system, a lack of access to non-pharmacological options for chronic pain care, and difficulties in provider and patient communication. Participating experts identified recommendations for multi-level change efforts spanning policy, research, education, and the organization of healthcare delivery. Conclusions Reducing opioid risk while ensuring safe and effective pain management, according to participating experts, is likely to require multi-level efforts spanning military, veteran, and civilian health systems. Efforts to implement risk mitigation strategies at the patient level should be accompanied by efforts to increase education for patients and providers, increase access to non-pharmacological pain care, and support use of existing clinical decision support, including state-level prescription drug monitoring programs.
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