Opioids and Deaths – If Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Can Do It, Why Can’t My Hospital OK Herbal & Compounded Medications?


 

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Gina Kolata reports in NYT

on the breaking study by two Princeton Economists    

 

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The key figure

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“The two Princeton economics professors — Angus Deaton and his wife, Anne Case — who wrote the report that is the subject of my front-page article today about rising death rates for middle-aged white Americans, have no clear answer, only speculation. But the effect is stark. Dr. Deaton and Dr. Case calculate that if the death rate among middle-aged whites had continued to decline at the rate it fell between 1979 and 1998, half a million deaths would have been avoided over the years from 1999 through 2013. That, they note, is about the same number of deaths as those caused by AIDS through 2015.”

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“…The dismal picture for middle-aged whites makes Case and Deaton wonder how much of what they are seeing might be attributed to the explosive increase in prescription narcotics.”

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“What’s interesting, Dr. Case said, is that the people who report pain in middle age are the people who report difficulty in socializing, shopping, sitting for three hours, walking for two blocks.”

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“Dr. Deaton envisions poorly educated middle-aged white Americans who feel socially isolated are out of work, suffering from chronic pain and turning to narcotics or alcohol for relief, or taking their own lives. Starting in the 1990s, he said, there was a huge emphasis on controlling pain, with pain charts going up in every doctor’s office and a concomitant increase in prescription narcotics.”

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“We don’t know which came first, were the drugs pushed so much that people are hypersensitive to pain or does overprescription of the drugs make pain worse?” Dr. Case said.”

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“Dr. Deaton noted that blacks and Hispanics may have been protected to an extent. Some pharmacies in neighborhoods where blacks and Hispanics live do not even stock those drugs, and doctors have been less likely to prescribe them for these groups. Dr. Deaton said.”

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“A black person has to be in a lot more pain to get a prescription,” Dr. Case said. “That was thought to be horrible, but now it turns out to maybe have a silver lining.”…..

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Commenter: “D. Morris 1 hour ago
“unfortunately it’s easier to get a prescription of Oxycontin, or legally buy a handgun, than it is to get affordable mental health care in…”

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My Comments are too long, need days of edits, no time to do.


We have so many inexpensive generic medications in allopathic, Ayurvedic, and complementary medicine that are never taught.

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It is cost effective for Universities to limit their instruction to Anesthesia pain that teaches procedures. Thank goodness when they work. But is that all we teach? I fear the answer is yes. That was all that was available in Santa Monica in the early and mid 1990’s, after UCLA closed the Anesthesiology Interdisciplinary Pain Management Center in 1991 – others closed nationwide. It is cost effective to teach and do procedures.

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Epidurals

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 Bread and butter epidurals have never been compared to the same steroid and local anesthetic injected to the adjacent muscle without putting a needle into the spine. It could be equally as effective, able to be done in office, without surgery and x-ray scheduling, but then it would not be a good income generator. Selective nerve root blocks and facet blocks can be very helpful. But are epidurals just flooding the area with the same effect as a local muscle injection? What are we teaching before we get to procedures? How many patients can afford to take time off from work or school for repeated costly procedures?

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Glial modulators, compounded medications

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It would help if MD’s were trained (with CME credit) in the use of generic medications to include glial modulators that mitigate the need for high doses of opioids. There is often more relief than expensive procedures and hardware can provide – which may not work or may be short lasting and unaffordable for many, either due to cost or time away from work every few weeks.

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Physical Therapy

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Good training in Physical Therapy would be the very first step, not by PhD’s who teach fine academic theory, but by certified Orthopedic Physical Therapists with decades of bedside experience are needed to teach therapists who have shown time and again that the most basic P.T. is not being done in this country. Even people with purely neuropathic pain often develop mechanical changes, splinting to avoid pain. That must also be addressed.   

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I do not mean to imply that opioids are not useful. But there is more to pain relief than opioids and I suspect it may not be taught at all. Opioids rightfully remain on the WHO list of ten most essential medications. But when you use them – and believe me I am a wimp and would not be able to tolerate pain, but when you use opioids for years and years, how effective will they be when you really need them far more?

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Opioids are essential for many of my patients and when they fail, when all drugs fail including opioids, I know one thing is on their mind, and it grieves me that this country does not care enough to fund more than a pittance for pain research. This country must do better. Nobel prizes are abundant in La Jolla, but how about translational research in the clinics where we try to keep patients functioning and able to return to work without opioids.

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Drugs do not address muscle

Trigger Points

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Any doctor can do simple trigger point injections if they knew how to identify trigger points, the classic spots on common overused muscles that mimic disabling knee pain or headache or loss of grip strength, yes a strained, shortened brachioradialis – not neurological but do MD’s know?  P.T. specialists too, I hope they know trigger points, but they are not always communicating them to me because I find them and they can be simple.

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Could they add the identification and training of doctors to know meaningful differences in types of physical therapy. They all should be taught by an Orthopedic Physical Therapist like Bruce Inniss who trained decades ago at Rancho Los Amigos, a national treasure center back then innovating care for the most difficult paralyzed, handicapped and publishing it. Not the fancy PhD theory that the newer P.T. grads know – good but not best. Why don’t all physical therapists know the basics Bruce finds every day —- the same basics that were never once treated in the 30 years that my disabled patients were forced to return to. They come from the best university specialists in the country, and they all groan when I say “P.T.” until the next day after they have seen Bruce for their “intractable pain.” Thirty years of lost life. Expensive, joyless, hoping for the worst, praying for the day you will be old enough for Medicare so you could afford care because it has cost you your life savings. I am grateful for academic researchers for their brilliance, their ability to tolerate an academic environment. Best of all I love their shiny new cardiology toys and Dr. Topol translating medicine over wi-fi. Lets not leave behind the basics.

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It shocks me to see some of the basic things were overlooked or not even considered in people who come to me, often seen by the best five pain centers in the country. Of course I rely on those centers who may be able to help my patients. But I am shocked by the omission of simple basics: physical therapy being a key ingredient. That alone could save lives and save our taxpayers billions if the investment were contemplated.

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Last week, the well respected pain specialist Joseph Shurman, MD, at Scripps, said that young Rehabilitation Pain Specialists were rare. Few are going into Pain Management from an essential field. It’s a tough field, changing daily.

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What about other things?

 Compounded medication

Botanical, Ayurvedic, Herbals

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Hospital and university pharmacy committees must begin to open their minds to highly valued compounded and herbal drugs made by respected compounding pharmacists. We all know the high volume thieves who delivered contaminated IV’s, and had  the cheapest prices that brought a bad name, but why stop beneficial interstitial cystitis infusions ordered for decades by the senior specialist in the field? This attitude against compounding and against highly recognized herbal and Ayurvedic preparations must be improved. For example, Boswellia sold by Gliacin.com points to studies by the headache specialist in Scottsdale who trained at the Mayo Migraine Clinic. His site has publications showing 7 of the most intractable Indocin-responsive headache syndromes were improved with Gliacin (Boswellia)..

Most notable in the field is the website and research by Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on herbals and botanicals. You can hardly exclude half the country from your hospital if they found relief at last?  Surely you must teach and know the effects of patient use on FDA approved medications you are prescribing.

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What happens to that patient, whose intractable pain

responds only to compounded medicine,

when they have to be admitted to hospital or rehab

for weeks where compounded medications are forbidden?

Do we make you worse to get you better?

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Hospitals and universities are run by respected seniors, whip smart, who have no experience with many tools that are essential to many in our population. They are rightfully very protective of our beloved high technology centers and want no lawsuits from unapproved drugs not sold by big pharmaceutical companies. Not all of us live in such rarefied privileged worlds in our daily lives. We already have the tools and could use many of them at home without burdening resources. I would love to see physicians on hospital pharmacy committees work side by side with compounding pharmacists and be protected by law for using such inexpensive medications. Insurers have stopped coverage for compounded medications in the last four years, finishing the job in June with Tricare no longer paying. Medicare never has.

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So goes medicine in this country. We all lose. We are reaching for bright shiny things that dazzle me too. Don’t forget to keep the basics, the first thing I learned when teaching at UCLA Epilepsy Center. Often, the basics were not omitted. Case solved.

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It’s hard to know what to trust in so-called alternative treatment, but we must begin to trust if we have evaluated the credentials of best providers. Can we not trust even your patient’s heavily documented history? 

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We must do better. It is costing too many lives. The study I mention, above, just published, is tragic and predictable. Just ask any of us who see this daily. Ask your neighbors and family.

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Politicians could give us a law to protect hospitals from law suit if they allow compounded medications from highly respected compounding pharmacists who are owners of high quality small trusted pharmacies — not those big ones without supervision, where quarterly profit is the goal. We must keep these precious resources of medicine alive so that only the upper middle class can afford them. Does everything have to have overpriced studies and FDA approval with publications by many peers? We all know what that did to colchicine pills used for 100 years for gout, taken 3 times a day. Everyone knew they worked. But if you are the 1%, you invest a little and you can charge $7 each, $21 every single day for just one pill for life, instead of pennies a day.   


 

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INTRACTABLE PAIN IS NOT INTRACTABLE

IF YOU USE THE TOOLS YOU ALREADY HAVE

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It is past time we start teaching tools for pain that many of us daily encounter. Teach to doctors and physical therapists at the very least, but bring it into middle school and even younger.

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So many people are forced to put up with lack of medical care, lack of jobs, lack of income, and disability from working in factories owned by the 1% who control care, often through worker’s compensation.

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Now insurers require ICD10 codes before pharmacy can fill an antidepressant. That feels like ICD10 prison, and this comes at the same time as 70,000 new codes – merely an extra 50 hours a week. Why is the MD not the judge of medication after due deliberation of all the details, all the failed drugs. Practicing medicine without a license has become the standard of care since 1990, out of the doctor’s hands. Now that and insurance will not accept a prior authorization for a low dose of 25 mcg patch the patient has required for the last ten years for their lupus, Sjogren’s, RSD, and painful neuropathy. We have all felt its claws.

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computer system errors may appear typing letters out of sequence – please forgive, no time to edit and finding gremlins everywhere, possibly in the opinions so dangerously passionate. We can do better America. You don’t have to take it. Step up! Vote for the ones who care about your well being.

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 , Ayurvedic, Herbal “

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3 Responses to “Opioids and Deaths – If Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Can Do It, Why Can’t My Hospital OK Herbal & Compounded Medications?”

  1. Jeisea Says:

    Dear Dr Sajben, Thank you again for another excellent post. I tweet your posts under the name “jeisea”. My real name is Jan Fisher. I live in Byron Bay in Australia. Regards, Jan

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Nancy Sajben MD Says:

    Persecuting someone who is disabled
    from approved medication is not Medicine.


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