Americans Struggle to Pay for Healthcare – 40% Delaying Treatments or Services


A survey on health behavior from 100,000 households

*25 percent of households have trouble paying

*40 percent expect to delay care this summer

*Baby boomers hardest hit

“The percentage of households that had difficulty in paying for care in the last year was statistically unchanged between March and April (about 25 percent).”

They found 40 percent of all households planned to postpone care in the coming three months, with about 15 percent planning to put off routine doctor visits.

Baby Boomers were four times more likely than seniors to have trouble paying for healthcare, according to the report.

Not surprisingly, those on Medicare “were the least likely to delay care.” Youth were also less likely, probably because they have fewer health problems.

Haunted by the dirty work of managed care & that deadly piece of paper: “Denied”


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“I know how managed care maims and kills patients”

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I will never forget the snarly laughter of a “medical” reviewer two weeks ago as he denied medication to my patient that the same PPO had been authorizing for years. My patient has been haunted by the man’s laughter since then. Denial of continuing medication is happening more and more despite California law that “grandfathers” in ongoing care for previously covered medication. See my post here.

It is “DESUETUDE.” It refers to the condition where a law has gone unenforced for so long that it is considered ‘obsolete.’ The law has not been repealed, but — here’s the clincher — the law has “collapsed into unenforcibility.” (quote from William M. Lamers, Jr, MD)

For years we have had spreadsheet medicine: Denial only for medication that is costly. It’s getting worse, more brazen.

Now that much new medication is unaffordable, priced far beyond the rate of a decade of inflation, what do we do with lawmakers that will not negotiate volume discount prices with pharmaceutical companies? How long will the middle class be able to afford common medication?  There isn’t another first world country on the planet that does not negotiate volume pricing.

Why are safe older pain medications being taken off the formulary?

Did you know that prices on best selling medicines may go up as much as 20 to 30% each year, though they’ve been on the market for years?

What is worse, managed care bloodlessly denies life saving procedures. A bloodless coup that rarely makes the news.

Physician Confesses to Congress, Choking Back Tears

Dr. Lynn DiPino [spelling?], former medical reviewer for Humana went before Congress to make “a public confession.”

This doctor, who acted as a reviewer for an insurance company, denied life saving surgery for a man and thus caused his death, saving “the company half a million dollars.”

Her decision to deny surgery insured her continued advancement in healthcare. “I went from making a few hundred dollars a week as a medical reviewer to an escalating six figure income as a physician executive.” “I was told repeatedly I was not denying care, I was simply denying payment. I know how managed care maims and kills patients. So I am here to tell you about the dirty work of managed care.”

As the video continues on the origins of managed care, it goes back to February 17, 1971, when Ehrlichman discusses Kaiser HMO with President Richard Nixon : “All the incentives are for less medical care because the less care they give, the more profit they make.”

Nixon smiles, his eyes narrow as if he is savoring fine wine, and says, “Not bad.”

Health Insurers Refuse to Limit Rescission of Coverage

withering criticism from Republican and Democratic Congress members

Today in Los Angeles Times

Even Republicans were appalled when “[e]xecutives of three of the nation’s largest health insurers told federal lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday that they would continue canceling medical coverage for some sick policyholders, despite withering criticism from Republican and Democratic members of Congress who decried the practice as unfair and abusive….

An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations showed that health insurers WellPoint Inc.[parent of Blue Cross of California], UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period.

It also found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses.

…Rescission was largely hidden until three years ago, when The Times launched a series of stories disclosing that insurers routinely canceled the medical coverage of individual policyholders who required expensive medical care.

…A Texas nurse said she lost her coverage, after she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, for failing to disclose a visit to a dermatologist for acne.

The sister of an Illinois man who died of lymphoma said his policy was rescinded for the failure to report a possible aneurysm and gallstones that his physician noted in his chart but did not discuss with him.

The committee’s investigation found that WellPoint’s Blue Cross targeted individuals with more than 1,400 conditions, including breast cancer, lymphoma, pregnancy and high blood pressure. And the committee obtained documents that showed Blue Cross supervisors praised employees in performance reviews for rescinding policies.

One employee, for instance, received a perfect 5 for “exceptional performance” on an evaluation that noted the employee’s role in dropping thousands of policyholders and avoiding nearly $10 million worth of medical care.

…Late in the hearing, Stupak, the committee chairman, put the executives on the spot. Stupak asked each of them whether he would at least commit his company to immediately stop rescissions except where they could show “intentional fraud.”

The answer from all three executives:

“No.”

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said that a public insurance plan should be a part of any overhaul because it would force private companies to treat consumers fairly or risk losing them.

“This is precisely why we need a public option,” Dingell said.

…In November 2007, The Times reported that insurer Health Net Inc. paid bonuses to employees based in part on their involvement in rescinding policies. According to internal corporate documents disclosed through litigation, Health Net saved $35 million over six years by rescinding policies.

The disclosures in part led an arbitration judge to levy $9 million in damages against Health Net in a case involving the company’s rescission of the policy of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer.

At the time, Blue Cross told The Times that it did not link employee performance reviews to rescission. Blue Cross also said at the time that it had conducted audits to ensure that claims reviewers were not given any “carrots” for canceling coverage.

The company reiterated that position Tuesday in spite of the committee’s disclosure of two employee performance evaluations from 2003 discussing rescission levels and savings.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

To Find My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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Opioids Create Pain via Molecular and Genetic Changes


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Chronic use of opioid pain medication

causes molecular and genetic changes that result in pain

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A brief update

American Pain Society May 2009 Symposia: Anti-analgesic Effects of Mu-opioids: Molecular and Genetic Mechanisms

The clinical benefits of opioid analgesics have not been fully realized due to substantial side effects, which include tolerance, dependence and opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Although the precise molecular mechanism of these phenomenon is not understood yet, it is generally thought to result from cellular excitatory effects of mu-opioids which contrast the major inhibitory effects.

Mark Hutchinson, PhD, discussed the new discovery that every clinically relevant class of opioid analgesics non-stereoselectively activates glial cells through TRL4 receptor. Activation of this receptor, primarily expressed by microglia, leads to the release of proinflammatory mediators that counter-regulate acute opioid analgesia.

How can opioid-induced glial activation oppose & augment different aspects of opioid action?

Opioid analgesia is opposed by opioid-induced spinal glial activation since increased neuronal excitability leads to elevated nociception. Increased brain opioid-induced glial activation also leads to increased neuronal excitability & within reward & dependence centers this is believed to increase opioid reward & dependence. Therefore analgesia is decreased & reward/dependence is increased.

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Counteracting hyperalgesia with naltrexone and dextromethorphan

In summary, Dr. Hutchinson describes the TRL4 receptor where opioids act to induce activation of microglia, releasing proinflammatory mediators that counteract analgesia and produce more pain.

Naltrexone, a mu opioid antagonist, has profound anti-inflammatory effects centrally on the microglia to produce analgesia.  This mechanism of action of low dose naltrexone is discussed here.

Dextromethorphan acts centrally on microglia by the same mechanism, producing analgesia.  Both naltrexone and dextromethorphan are classified as morphinans, morphine-like.·

More is less:  increasing the dose causes pain.

A steep road to climb, much less to understand.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and

is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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For My Home Page, click here:  

Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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3% of Medical Schools Have a Course on Pain Management


Corrections have been made to my previous post

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Persistent pain has a prevalence of 1 in 5 of the population

at an annual cost of $1.85 billion per 1 million population.

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Does Pain Management Have a Place in American Healthcare?

Pain focused courses foster affective awareness and shape values formation in medical learners.


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Symposium on Pain Management Aimed at Medical School Students

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Yale’s Medical Bulletin, Published: May 16, 2008

New Haven, Conn. — Physicians-in-training learned about an important aspect of patient care — pain management — at a symposium held recently at the Yale School of Medicine.

In recent years, pain has been designated as one of the vital signs indicating a patient’s well-being by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and pain management is being widely accepted as a basic human right. Yet only 3% of the nation’s medical schools, including Yale, currently have a separate course in pain management. [emphasis mine]

As a first step in its efforts to include separate training in pain management as part of its curriculum, the School of Medicine recently hosted the inaugural Yale Multidisciplinary Pain Management Symposium. The event was organized by student Ninani Kombo under the guidance of faculty adviser Dr. Nalini Vadivelu, associate professor of anesthesiology, with support from the medical school’s Offices of Education and of Student Affairs, as well as the Graduate Professional Student Senate.

The symposium featured presentations on “Pain Pathways,” “Clinical Perspectives in Pain Management,” “Interventional Pain Management,” “Psychology and Pain Management” and “Legal Considerations of Pain Management.” The speakers included Vadivelu, Dr. Sam Chung and Dr. Raymond Sinatra of the Department of Anesthesiology; Dr. Michele Johnson of the Department of Interventional Radiology; Layne Goble, a psychologist at the West Haven Veterans Hospital; and Robert Burt, the Alexander M. Bickel Professor of Law at Yale Law School.

Two physicians also brought in patients so the students could talk with them and learn more about their personal experiences and challenges in living with chronic pain. One, who suffers from migraines, is a patient of Dr. Bahman Jabbari, professor of neurology; and the other, who has sickle cell anemia, is a patient of Dr. Thomas Duffy, professor of internal medicine and hematology.

Plans call for the symposium to continue as an annual event, and to be included within the neurology module of the second-year medical curriculum.

“This will continue to be a multidisciplinary pain symposium and in true Yale medical school tradition it will be organized by medical student volunteers,” says Vadivelu, who will continue to serve as faculty adviser for the initiative. “In the near future, the pain management curriculum may be expanded to include didactic case studies in pain management during the third and fourth years of medical school.

“This commitment,” she adds, “makes Yale School of Medicine one of the leaders among U.S. medical schools in formal pain management education.”

PRESS CONTACT: Office of Public Affairs 203-432-1345

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A letter from Yale professors April 2009, to the Editor of the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges

Academic Medicine:
April 2009 – Volume 84 – Issue 4 – p 408
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31819a8358
Letters to the Editor
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The Urgent Need for Pain Management Training

Vadivelu, Nalini MD; Kombo, Ninani; Hines, Roberta L. MD

To the Editor: Approximately 50 million people in the United States suffer from persistent pain,1 and pain treatment cuts across most medical disciplines. Despite huge strides in understanding pain, there is a major gap between that understanding and pain diagnosis and treatment. In the 21st century, pain management is being accepted as a basic human right.2 Thus, it is even more important to train medical students to be competent in the areas of pain assessment and treatment. However, few physicians graduating from U.S. medical schools have had comprehensive multidisciplinary pain education as part of their medical school curricula. This was shown in an AAMC survey in 2000-2001, which found that only 3% of medical schools had a separate course in pain management in their curricula1; the situation is not much better today. [emphasis mine] Although a free, Internet-based CD-ROM textbook on pain was developed for medical students in 2003 by the American Academy of Pain Medicine, we feel there is an urgent need for formal pain management training within the medical school curriculum.

Pain education in medical schools could be in the form of pain symposiums, pain workshops, lecture series, and clinical rotations in pain management, according to what is available and feasible in each school. Interinstitutional elective rotations in pain management and summer research projects with resulting research publications in pain should also be encouraged. Funding for the latter is available from, for example, Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research grants to medical students from the American Society of Anesthesiologists. We at Yale have incorporated formal pain education into our curriculum using a multidisciplinary pain symposium at the second-year level with case studies for third- and fourth-year students.

We believe that medical schools worldwide should establish formal pain management education in each year of their curricula. [emphasis mine] This will enable graduating physicians everywhere to be well equipped to ease their patients’ pain.

Nalini Vadivelu, MD

Associate professor, Department of Anesthesiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut; (nalini.vadivelu@yale.edu).

Ninani Kombo

Fifth-year medical student, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.

Roberta L. Hines, MD

Professor and chair, Department of Anesthesiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

To Find My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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FDA Restricting Opioids, Patients Lose – NIH Does Not Fund Pain Research – No Access to Nonopioid Treatment


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The War on Drugs Sold so Well That Persons With Pain

Often Cannot Get Pain Medication or Treatment

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Don’t read this. It will upset you.

The federal government has always been more interested in addicts than in persons who are disabled with intractable pain. Billions are spent to imprison addicts rather than pay for addiction programs which would be far less expensive.

Only 3% of medical schools have a course in pain management, Yale announced in 2008. According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, the IASP, education on pain is poor at either the preclinical or clinical levels and information is poorly integrated.” Fewer than 3% of recent graduates have had a few hours of training. This means that unless your doctor is among that small 3% that has recently graduated, they have had no training in pain control. None. And the FDA ignores the extensive training of pain specialists when approving limitations on new medications.

Worst of all, NIH spends 0.67% of its budget on pain research – less than 1% – though 10 to 20% of the population in the US suffers from chronic pain, an estimated 60 million Americans, and the conditions are more prevalent among the elderly. Addiction funding is the only reason neuroscientists in the early 1970’s were able to identify opioid receptors and then to clone them, which legitimized pain in cancer patients and led to use of opioids for cancer pain in the 1970’s and for noncancer pain in the 1990’s.

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Pain Epidemic:

Does Pain Management Have a Place in American Healthcare?

Today, there is too much reliance on opioids for pain because there is little or no NIH research on alternatives. Or maybe because your doctor does not know any other treatment than to prescribe an opioid. Or because Medicare will not pay for the amount of physical therapy you need. Opioids are overprescribed. This increases the risk of opioids being diverted and falling into the hands of addicts, leading to deaths and headlines that will no doubt limit your ability to be treated for pain. How many of you know Medicare has been limiting physical therapy for years? If you use all your treatment by mid February, they will not pay for more no matter how often you fracture your hip or herniate a disc. Is it right for them to pay for opioid pain medication and not physical therapy?

Just think of it. Before the early 1970’s, we had no pain societies, no hospices, no use of opioids for cancer patients (unless they happened to be hospitalized), no oral opioids, no oral morphine — why the very thought that oral morphine could work was argued against vehemently by the chief of the pain service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC, in December 1975 at the first meeting of the IASP. The first meeting. 1975. Think of it. He argued that oral morphine would be metabolized so rapidly that it would pass out of the body and not be there to help.

William Lamers, Jr., MD

William M. Lamers, Jr., MD

In the early 1970’s if you had pain, you were not legitimate because we simply did not know there were such things as opioid receptors nor did we have oral opioid medication.

Now re-imagine that vehement argument in 1975 again, knowing that my dear friend William M. Lamers, Jr., MD, was the first in the world to use oral morphine when he founded home hospice in America 5 or 6 years before that date. He invited Dr. Cicely Saunders to California to teach her how to use oral morphine at her hospice, and following that, St. Christopher’s Hospice in London stopped using the ineffective Brompton’s Cocktail that caused so many side effects with so much less pain relief. Their research a few years later enabled Dr. Robert Twycross from St. Christopher’s Hospice to stride to the stage in 1975 at the IASP meeting, and report their work with oral morphine, to the applause of the Brits.

Let me be clear, I am gravely concerned that the use of opioids for nonmalignant pain will lead to a dire problem with opioid induced hyperalgesia in our large population of pain patients. If not hyperalgesia, the benefit of relief is undercut by the pain they create as shown by recent research on glia. Opioids create pain at the same time they relieve pain.

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We Are Not Getting Access to Effective Nonopioid Treatments

Worst of all, unless opioids are low cost, your insurance – PPO, Medicare, Medicaid – will not authorize several profoundly important nonopioid medications that help and/or relieve intractable disabling pain in many of my patients:

  • Namenda an NMDA antagonist that was shown in European research in 2001 to be effective for severe pain at a dose of 55 mg per day; in the US it is approved only for dementia at a dose of 20 mg per day. Insurance will not cover the dose needed; patients cannot afford it.
  • Compounded capsules and ointments may be the only thing that helps others, but are often not approved.
  • Naltrexone and other morphinans – see my post on naltrexone –  may relieve disabling pain, but compounded medications are often not approved
  • Medical marijuana research has been forbidden by the federal government despite active research and use of approved compounds in Canada and UK for severe intractable pain. Marijuana is in a class of chemicals called cannabinoids. Our brain makes cannabinoids and has receptors where they act. A synthetic cannabinoid  is FDA approved in the US for chemotherapy induced vomiting. The cost of one mg capsules is $400 for 20 – who can afford that?  In Canada, it is used for pain patients at bedtime to relieve severe pain that prevents sleep. Yet in California where inexpensive medical marijuana is legal, the Obama Department of Justice has continued the prosecution of Charles Lynch, a legitimate marijuana dispensary owner.  He was convicted on federal drug charges despite carefully following state and local law in setting up and running his business and being fully licensed by the state. He had the full support of the mayor and city council, yet he was sentenced to a year and a day in jail last week – the Obama DOJ pushed for a mandatory 5 years jail. Federal law prevented him from testimony in his own defense, presumably because federal law excludes states rights and the issue that marijuana sales may interfere with interstate commerce. For discussion of this and the bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Barney Frank, HR 2835, to legalize medical marijuana, see here. There was a time in the recent past when hospice doctors in the US made marijuana suppositories to relieve severe pain and nausea in dying cancer patients. In Mexico, marijuana is used in ointments by the elderly to relieve arthritis pain. 100 years ago, it was mentioned in some medical textbooks in America. And U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk calls for 25 years in prison for first time trafficking offense.
  • Marijuana: Effective for severe pain, safe, nontoxic, inexpensive and illegal.
  • The legal status of prescribing as well as the legal status of using marijuana is needlessly complicated. The Federal Government is clear… prescribing and use are both criminal offenses. Nothing is for certain except that the legal status is a mess.
  • Unrelieved suffering leads to an intensification of pain that may result in depression, withdrawal, irritability, anger and sometimes even hostility to caregivers.

NSAID –  nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug – use is discouraged in the elderly.  NSAIDs pose severe risk to the elderly and cannot be used in others due to heart disease, gastric intolerance, ulcers, GERD, anemia, bleeding, kidney disease, asthma, and those who are on various medications such as Plavix or Coumadin. Further, heavy NSAID use leads to higher dementia risk (see my post on this).

Some nonopioid alternatives cannot be used in those with liver or kidney conditions, men over 50 who still have a prostate, persons who wish to avoid suddenly becoming obese (Lyrica), those with allergies or intolerance to their side effects because the drug makes the fall backwards or suppresses their bone marrow.

Worse than those issues, we have only a few opioids which work on specific opioid receptors, some are more specific for neuropathic pain or for allodynia, yet since September 2008, the FDA has removed several of the older opioids from the shelf with no reason given to pharmacists or MD’s. I have spent hours calling pharmacies to see if they stock a medication I wrote for a patient hours before they left the office holding their specialized prescription. You know very well that if a patient called asking about opioids in stock they’d be looked upon as an addict, and many pharmacies will not stock opioids with the excuse they would be robbed. No matter you are in severe pain, you must wait 72 hours until they stock it. 

Even with insurance, your PPO will not authorize many if not most of the medications I prescribe and the cost of medication is surely the #1 reason.  That is true for opioids and nonopioid medication I use for pain control. Many are off label for pain, others are off label for anyone  who does not have cancer despite severe disabling pain, therefore not covered. If you are wealthy, you can purchase any medication prescribed.

Opioids are a distinct issue and outrageously expensive compared to the pennies cost of the raw drug. There is never a discussion of reducing costs of new drugs. Imagine $45 per unit, used 12 or 20 times per day in extreme, rare cases. Then imagine your PPO allowed prior authorization for 1 year, but then it was 6 months, then 2 months. What will happen next month? Hours and hours of non-reimbursed physician time is spent on these.  They could just save us all time if they published a list telling us what they will never ever ever reimburse no matter what. No wonder a radiologist or cardiologist or a doctor who does procedures makes millions every year. They don’t have to deal with the deafening “no.” The California law is never enforced that guarantees continuation of medication that is being used and that has been approved in the past for years. Requesting an independent appeal is a sham, the fox guarding the henhouse, paid by the same company that refused authorization.

The FDA has limited use of short acting fentanyl to cancer pain, thus PPO’s will often not authorize it without a cancer diagnosis.  News flash: there is no such thing as cancer pain. Patients without cancer have the same categories of pain that you do: involving abberent signals from nerve, viscera or other tissues. At the American Pain Society’s annual meeting in San Diego, May 2009, an FDA official admitted there were only 3 pain specialists on a panel of 11 MD’s that reviewed short acting fentanyl. It is likely the other 8 had no training in use of opioids.  Fewer than 3% of medical schools spend less than 30 hours over 4 years teaching pain management to medical students, and that is only in recent years, which means almost all physicians in practice today have had no training in use of opioids. Oncologists included. Do they think that pain specialists who have spent decades in the field have no understanding of opioids? If so, then why do they not limit all strong opioids to persons with cancer? or is this coming? Politicians do not like headlines about addicts who overdose themselves.

The special case of Subutex and Suboxone which is buprenorphine alone or with naloxone. Buprenorphine is an old drug, a long acting opioid that has unique effect at kappa opioid receptors and it is said it may help allodynia better than other opioids. PPO insurance will not authorize Subutex (buprenorphine) for my patients with pain, or if they do, they will authorize only one of the two, Subutex, but not the other, even though the one they will pay for causes intractable migraine but not the other. In Europe, both are approved for pain or for addiction, just like we use methadone here.  But our FDA has limited use to addicts, though it is an important opioid that we might use for pain. This means PPO insurance will not pay for it. This new formulation of Suboxone or Subutex in a sublingual tablet means it is very expensive, and I have patients in pain, weeping that they cannot afford it and must go back on their Oxycontin that works less well.

Unique issues for oral short acting fentanyl and Subutex or Suboxone: both will absorb directly in the mouth which is important for some persons with colitis, abdominal surgery, bariatric surgery, other conditions with poor GI absorption of tablets such as celiac disease, and those who are unable to use fentanyl patches due to skin allergies.

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Need for Balance between Risk of Substance Abuse

vs  Suffering and Disability Caused by Untreated Pain?

The FDA and Congress voice concern about addiction, but how much do they care about pain? Actions speak louder than words and the lack of NIH funding for pain research is shocking. Pain does not make newspaper headlines though pain is the #1 reason people seek medical help, more so as the population ages.

Here are more policy and headline issues that will make it harder for people with pain to get the care they need:

FDA, Pain Docs Look to Cut Abuse of Pain Killers“FDA said it was working on a plan to make it tougher for people to abuse certain prescription painkillers….” From the comments: “Regardless of great efforts to reverse this trend, physicians who legitimately prescribe opioids for pain may still feel ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t.’ It seems as though we have simultaneously raised consciousness of the need for pain control and increased the risks to physicians of being part of the solution. If this dilemma is not resolved, advancing the cause of pain management as a fundamental human right may, in part, serve to polarize the medical community.”

F.D.A. to Place New Limits on Prescriptions of Narcotics “This is going to be a massive program,” according to Dr. John K. Jenkins, director of the F.D.A.’s new drug center.”  “…a law passed in 2007 gave the agency a new, intermediate weapon — Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies. Known as REMS, these programs allow the agency to place strong restrictions on the distribution of certain drugs.”

Increased Scrutiny of Opioids Could Alter Prescribing Practice “If a formal risk reduction plan for opioid painkillers increases the regulatory burden on physicians, they may simply stop prescribing such drugs, to the detriment of patients in severe pain, the FDA was told Thursday.” Most physicians have no training in pain management, yet instead of requiring more education, regulation of doctors makes it harder to treat persons with legitimate pain and may have no effect on addicts and illegal diversion that they are really trying to regulate. Suggestions were made at a public hearing, quoted here:

  • If a REMS does end up imposing requirements on physicians, positive incentives should be put in place to fund and support training in pain management, such as waiving or reducing the fee clinicians now must pay to the DEA for the privilege of prescribing Schedule II drugs
  • But clinicians do not currently have the tools to enforce proper distribution and use of narcotics, and need more support and training, said Jennifer Bolen, founder of the Legal Side of Pain and the Pain Law Institute. “It’s dangerous and irresponsible to use physicians to teach the law,” Bolen said. She said state medical licensing boards, health insurance plans, and law enforcement officials must play a big role in enforcing the REMS.
  • But the FDA is not a criminal enforcement agency, said John Jenkins, M.D., director of the Office of New Drugs at the FDA.
  • One suggestion from a number of speakers is that the FDA require opioid manufacturers to put serial numbers or microchips in opioid tablets, linked to the prescription that released them to a patient. That way, if law enforcement officials seize pills, the prescriber and patient can be easily traced.
  • The FDA is already considering serial numbers on some classes of medication for a different reason — to confirm the integrity of the supply chain.
  • Other speakers suggested creating opioid medications that are “less abusable” such as crush-proof pills. However, formulations intended to thwart abuse have been tried before. That was the original intent behind Oxycontin, the brand of extended-release oxycodone that ended up widely abused.While it’s up to the FDA to decide what a REMS will look like, it’s the responsibility of drug companies to enforce the new regulations.
  • the two-day hearing was peppered with emotional testimonies from people whose family members overdosed on opioid drugs that they obtained illegally.
  • the FDA might convene an advisory committee before any REMS is finalized.

Addiction is a very important issue. Families are best in a position to see what is happening to members who have addiction problems, but addiction programs are poorly funded and many Americans are uninsured, especially the young who are most vulnerable to chemical dependency. Can families help someone who does not want to be helped?

I want to make it very clear that all of us, myself included, are responsible for reducing addiction, misuse of prescription drugs, and diversion in this country. Yes, that means anyone who gives someone else a pill from their prescribed medication, no matter how harmless it may seem. If that is a pain drug, your pain specialist can go to jail for 30 years even if he or she did not know about it. Never give one of your prescription pills to anyone else.

Designing high tech remedies to prevent opioid tablets from being injected or inhaled by addicts will increase the cost of your pain medication.  It is already difficult to afford without new technology, and why is it so expensive since many are now old drugs and the raw material costs pennies?

If we become disabled or develop chronic pain, there is often no money for the multidisciplinary approach to pain management that is essential for treatment: extreme limits on physical therapy, no cognitive behavioral therapy, no coverage at all for many medications that I prescribe. Some of my patients who are still working are afraid they will be laid off at work if they limp, are slow or show they have pain. This is not unlike my cancer patients who fear public knowledge they have cancer. But the rising insurance cost to their employer is Darwinian evolution at its cruelest, untouched by the human mind and heart. Free for the rich, for profiteering off the most vulnerable.

Cost of high tech pills to deter addicts. We thank the FDA for their guidance in requiring opioid manufacturers to make it more difficult for addicts to abuse these drugs, but does the cost of that new technology make these medications unaffordable for the average person, especially the disabled and elderly who may need them more than others. Is the FDA pulling older and more affordable opioids off the shelf because they do not have this new technology? Is the cost of medical care and denial of coverage being driven by the 5% of addicts in this country, by expensive prison empires to house them, by headlines and politicians?

Cost is the issue that limits care. When Medicare & PPO coverage is cut for all of us, will the cost of drugs be one of the major reasons? Answer: it already is.

Remember, the FDA does not have a majority of pain specialists on pain-related advisory committees, only 3 out of 11 MD’s sat on the FDA committee that limited use of short acting fentanyl medication for cancer pain. Opioids may be an essential option for some of my patients yet their PPO will not pay for it — it’s restricted to cancer patients. PPO’s will not pay for many nonopioids used for pain either.

Does the FDA think oncologists know more about treating pain than a pain specialist? The answer is definitely no! Oncologists do not, and some abuse their power to prevent pain relief. Research has shown severe untreated pain in 34% of cancer patients among oncology specialists in the Northeastern US, and likely far more in other areas. There are many untold stories about oncologists who do not treat pain or who use poor practice treating pain, even at major cancer centers. Pain is not their priority and most spend no time learning the needed expertise.

So no coverage for PT, for off label medication, for compounded medication, for opioids restricted to cancer pain, for expensive medication, and increasing regulation for older and more affordable opioids if they have not been pulled off the shelf by the FDA.

Cost cuts imposed major losses in pain management. PPO cuts were severe at least as far back as the mid 1980’s. In 1990, UCLA closed its Anesthesiology Interdisciplinary Pain Center, only 15 years after the first international pain society meeting. Laid off with two weeks notice was the President of the American Pain Society and distinguished researchers in the field. Soon after that, in the hallways of the annual pain society meeting, whispered rumors spread that almost all university centers had closed their interdisciplinary pain centers. Only a few remained, but there was silence on the subject from the platforms and leadership and media. UCLA paved over the only therapeutic swimming pool in the greater Los Angeles area in order to build yet another radiology center.

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The Era for Procedures

There has been a rapid increase in interventional procedures with almost all pain specialists shifting to high reimbursement and easily funded techniques, but where’s the science? Read the practice guidelines of the Academy of Neurology and American Pain Society on epidurals and nerve blocks. Where are the studies that show their benefit? Are they suitable as the best choice?

Pain management requires individualized care that involves analysis and specific treatment based upon many factors. Medicare and PPO’s will pay for procedures which are inversely proportional to the time needed for analysis. There is no single evidence based protocol that can be applied to every one such as there is for chest pain.

With so little research funding and so little training going into pain management,  politics may make the treatment of pain subject to more and more irrational or unaffordable choices.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

To Find My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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