Tim Ives, Pharm.D., M.P.H., (center) counsels a patient at UNC Ambulatory Care Center.

Timothy Ives, Pharm.D., M.P.H., is leading one arm of a joint study between UNC, Duke, Vanderbilt and RTI International focusing on opioid de-prescribing that is funded by a $9 million grant from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute. The study will start Feb. 1.

Ives’ part of the study will recruit 300 or so patients who were prescribed opioids for chronic pain. Half will be examined by the pain management clinic at UNC and the other half will be treated according to the pain management regimen they’ve already been prescribed.

Ives said his work at the clinic differs from other pain management methods because it examines the whole patient, not just the pain. Often, Ives said, the clinic finds that patients aren’t being helped by the opioids they’ve been prescribed because their pain is a result of other unexamined issues like psychological trauma.

The clinic works closely with psychiatrists and social workers that collaborate on treatment that helps to reach the root of each patient’s problems. This study will combine cognitive behavioral therapy with opioid pain management.

“The future of pain management may be less about drugs than we thought,” Ives said. “That’s counterintuitive for a pharmacist, but it may be what’s best for the patient.”

Ives hopes the addition of mental health care to pain management will reduce the number of opioids patients need.

“We want to find the most effective ways to alleviate chronic pain, a very real problem, while also minimizing or avoiding the harms that can come with long-term use of opioids,” said PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby, M.D., M.P.H. “By supporting this research, we’re looking at strategies for effective pain care that addresses the areas of greatest concern to those living with chronic pain.”

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