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Original Research

Observational Evidence for Buprenorphine’s Impact on Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Veterans With Chronic Pain and Opioid Use Disorder

Karen H. Seal, MD, MPH; Shira Maguen, PhD; Daniel Bertenthal, MPH; Steven L. Batki, MD; Joan Striebel, MD; Murray B. Stein, MD; Erin Madden, MPH; and Thomas C. Neylan, MD

Published: September 28, 2016

Article Abstract

Objective: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, and substance use disorders are prevalent co-occurring conditions that are challenging to treat individually, and there is no evidence-based treatment for all 3. Buprenorphine, used to treat opioid use disorder and chronic pain, is a partial nociceptin opioid receptor agonist. In preclinical studies, a nociceptin opioid receptor agonist was shown to mitigate PTSD symptoms in acute trauma. We compared buprenorphine to other opioid medications in its impact on PTSD symptoms in patients with chronic pain and opioid and/or other substance use disorders.

Method: We assembled a retrospective cohort of 382 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in US Department of Veterans Affairs health care from October 1, 2007, to July 29, 2013, with ICD-9-CM diagnoses of PTSD, chronic pain, and substance use disorders. We used time-varying general estimating equation models to assess the primary outcome, which was change in PTSD symptoms (measured using the PTSD Checklist and the Primary Care PTSD Screen) among veterans initiated on sublingual buprenorphine versus those maintained on moderately high-dose opioid therapy.

Results: Twice as many veterans in the buprenorphine group (23.7%) compared to those in the opioid therapy group (11.7%) experienced improvement in PTSD symptoms (P = .001). Compared to veterans in the opioid therapy group, veterans receiving buprenorphine showed significant improvement in PTSD symptoms after 8 months, with increasing improvement up to 24 months (incidence rate ratio = 1.79; 95% CI, 1.16-2.77; P = .009). There were no differences in the longitudinal course of pain ratings between groups.

Conclusions: This observational study is the first to report an incidental effect of buprenorphine compared to opioid therapy in improving PTSD symptoms in veterans.

Volume: 77

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