RSD, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – a case report


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Severe Pain for Three Years,

 80% better in 10 days

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“This has been life altering.”

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This is a very bright young woman who was an all state volleyball player until onset of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome three years ago in the right hand and wrist. It began after blood was drawn from the hand for a chemistry study and, one week later, the fingers turned black, lost blood flow, followed by emergency surgery for removal of a blood clot from the back of her hand. She woke after surgery, tearing the sheet off due to intense pain on light touch — that is called allodynia — and then developed severe edema from the hand to the shoulder.

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It was four excruciating weeks before the diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome was made.

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CRPS or RSD is a diagnosis that every MD,

every surgeon, every ER doctor,

every psychiatrist and psychologist, every nurse and therapist should know how to diagnose.

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Because she was a minor, they would not do nerve blocks.

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She developed contractures of the fingers and hand,

was unable to move the fingers.

  A major university hospital diagnosed Munchausen Syndrome;

mom was diagnosed with Munchausen’s by proxy.

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This happens so often. This is 2012.

If it’s not the doctors,

it’s the insurance companies

creating roadblocks to diagnosis or treatment or both.

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Why is pain management not taught at medical schools?

Only 3% of schools today give 30 hours instruction in four years, Yale most recently.

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At a major university hospital two hours away, she failed to respond to 14 stellate and brachial plexus blocks. But the wound reopened by itself, the stitch fell out. The psychiatry department evaluated her after she was so drugged with methadone, she does not even recall the interview. They diagnosed Munchausen Syndrome. That changed everything. Relationship went sour. Distrust of MD’s began and was confirmed many times in many places along the northeastern corridor and Texas.

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That fall, she became a student at the university of her dreams. The diagnosis of CRPS was confirmed at their university medical center hospital where they wanted to continue the same blocks that had failed. Elsewhere, the chief of a renowned ivy league university pain service wanted to talk to her only about spinal cord stimulators, declined by the family.

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In May 2010, she qualified for an NIH study of neurotropin double blind 6 weeks on, 6 weeks placebo. Failed.

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She was seen by Dr. Schwartzman in Philadelphia October 2011, and sent from there to NYC to rule out neuroma dorsum right hand, negative.

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On Lyrica, she gained 20 lbs, then back to 130 lbs baseline when off of Lyrica. Intolerance to Morphine – hives, Duragesic – total body itching. Ambien – hallucinations, Lunesta – hyper. Benadryl helped somewhat. Detoxing from Nucynta – lips were bright red.

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Her weight dropped from 130 to 115. Many medications were trialed and failed. Marinol helps pain slightly and gives the best sleep in years, better appetite. It does cause anxiety, but she had not slept in three years, and it gives 4 to 6 hours of good sleep. She developed sharp bitemporal headaches. I advised headache is a side effect of Pristiq —- now thankfully discontinued and better.

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Since August 2011, she has had CRPS pain in the right leg, worse walking, weight bearing.  There is discoloration of the dorsum hand usually, at times along proximal forearm, recently at right foot and leg. She had edema up to the shoulder measuring 30 cm. Nails growth faster at the right hand, possibly less hair growth right hand. Temperature usually cooler on the right hand, at times at night the hand and foot become hotter. No change in sweating noted.

The first year, she had almost total loss of function in the hand with pain and contractures —and forced herself to move the fingers with OT and PT, then home exercise. She still has days when the fingers remain flexed, but 98% of the time there is full movement as she continually tries to use the hand/fingers to write and type. Nose may become ice cold and tingly since CRPS spread to right side of face and right lower limb. At times tingling fingers. She struggles with memory when pain is severe and with lack of sleep.

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Pain ranges 7 to 10, average 8. Edema was significant for one year, now comes and goes. Allodynia is present hands and feet, now a different scale than before when she could not even be in the car.

However, with weight bearing and walking, pain of the right lower limb became most intense.  She will be 21 in July, but on a bad day was unable to leave her bedroom to walk downstairs as pain was too severe. She would communicate with family by loudly calling or texting. It was unthinkable to make plans for the next week due to severe pain. She has osteoporosis with atrophy of the right upper limb, and has had color changes and edema of the hand.

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She lives in an eastern state inland, two hours away from the mid Atlantic seaboard and major medical center. She failed ketamine infusion at a major university medical center on the east coast. The cost and inconvenience was significant and the family did not know that ketamine may fail to have any effect if taking opioid analgesics. Once mom discovered that, she was able to wean off the opioid medication. Ultimately, after many more interventions, much later, in crisis, she did benefit from IV ketamine infusion, and was able to regain some movement of her fingers on the right hand, but there was no lasting relief. It was a struggle to obtain approval through her insurance.

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She has been spending a great deal of time in bed for months. Morning stiffness is widespread for one to two hours. Bending is difficult, feels as if “hit by a bus,” but she does stretching, moving, distraction and Yoga when able.

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Much better in 10 days

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Day one: pain of the entire right side, face, trunk, limbs, rated 7 to 10 on a scale of 10, average 8. She guards the dominant right hand and the signature is difficult. Atrophy of the right upper limb is present, nails longer on the right hand, dusky dark erythema and long jagged scar over the dorsum right hand, mild erythema of the right upper and right lower limbs.

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On the first day, in the office, she tried the first dose of ketamine nasal spray and after a repeat dose, she was puzzled, thinking to herself, then let us know she realized she was able to concentrate. A small dose is not enough to relieve severe pain, but even major depression can vanish at that dose. Two sprays relieved the brain fog of depression; pain was still 8 on a scale of 10. Blood pressure and pulse did not change before and after doses. She felt hopeful.

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In the next few days she was able to do the unthinkable: make plans with friends, walk 45 minutes, become active, and remain active in a way that had not been possible. She was far more active with much less pain.  Over the weekend, six days after she arrived, after we had sequentially added several new medications, she found the dosage of nasal and sublingual ketamine that worked for her. She has actually had times when she was pain free. As noted during prior ketamine infusions, she requires a far higher dose than most patients to achieve effect. The plan now is to use higher doses at home when time permits for best effect, and booster sprays of nasal ketamine as needed when away from home. She can carry it in her pocket. There is no need for ICU infusions and the fight to get insurance coverage for those stays.

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Of great significance, she has even made plans for the entire summer.

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More details of her case will be added, as time permits. For now, this page is here to allow the patient and family and others to send comments. She will continue slow titration of other medications that will take three months before reaching the target dose, before we can assess efficacy. Based on my experience treating chronic intractable neuropathic pain including CRPS, it is possible these medications will be able to stabilize and relieve pain without ketamine.

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See other case reports of treatment of CRPS here, here, and here.

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You can read some of the science of pain, glia and inflammation. Ketamine is significantly anti-inflammatory. Three of her new medications are glial modulators. Treatment of severe chronic pain usually involves rational polypharmacy, not one medication and not medication alone. It requires a holistic approach to heal: P.T., O.T., massage, cognitive behavioral therapy, guided imagery, visualization, positive thinking, remaining active, and other modalities that depend upon the underlying cause: physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial. The treatment for CRPS is not specific for that condition alone, but the gains can be possible with tremendous discipline, effort, single minded determination and the loving support of friends and family.

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Be cautious of spinal cord stimulators. Try everything else first.

They can create pain and scarring or tether the spinal cord.

Be proactive.

Remember that guidelines and strategies for diagnosis and treatment are outdated.

Support RSDSA.org if you can.

They support high quality pain research.

You can go directly to their site or donate to them (not me)

using the link at the top of my site here.

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Patients and doctors do not understand that opioids create pain.

A 2006 publication from Vanderbilt shows how much better pain can be to taper off.

The abstract:

Significant pain reduction in chronic pain patients after detoxification from high-dose opioids.

The article:

Significant pain reduction in chronic pain patients after detoxification from high-dose opioids.

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More on this young woman’s journey coming.

It’s been busy!

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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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Please understand that it is not legal for me to give medical advice without a consultation.

If you wish an appointment, you will need to telephone my office.

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For 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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Medical Library


This page at the National Library of Medicine or Medical Librarymay be useful to you, allowing you to search for the explanation of Medical Conditions, Medications, Procedures, Tests, and general questions.

Other active links – click to open

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Other  organizations include American College of Emergency Physicians, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Family Caregiver Alliance, American Bar Association Commission on Law & Aging.

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Lumbar Epidural Injections & Sympathetic Nerve Blocks


Nerve Block Therapy for Low Back Pain: Show Me the Money and the Science, is the title of an article published in 2002, in the American Pain Society journal Pain.  The author reviewed current studies and questioned the value of lumbar epidural injections and sympathetic nerve blocks.

The scientific evidence to prove efficacy simply was not there.  More importantly, even with fluoroscopy and accurate placement of the needle, the solution reached the desired area only 26% of the time.  The author called for research to test efficacy.

From the current review, we must conclude that lumbar epidural steroid injections and sympathetic nerve blocks produce a large amount of money, with very little science to support their application. Does this mean they are useless? Obviously not; these techniques have some value in acute pain management and should not be completely abandoned. However, their use as a mainstream ( almost knee-jerk ) intervention for acute or chronic low back pain does not appear to be at all justifiable at the scientific level.

The fundamental recommendation is quite obvious. Those pain specialists who use these techniques on a regular basis need to support and initiate some clinical research trials that adequately test these procedures’ efficacy. Without this, the routine application of epidural steroid injections and lumbar sympathetic nerve blocks for acute or chronic low back pain is not evidence based. Therefore, when can it be recommended remains an empirical question.

More recently in March 2007, the American Academy of Neurology studied the issue in depth and published  Practice Guidelines on the Use of Epidural Steroid Injections to Treat Radicular [sciatic] Lumbosacral Pain.

They also found no Level A quality research and did not recommend routine use:

Based on the available evidence, the Therapeutics and Technology Assessment subcommittee concluded that

1) epidural steroid injections may result in some improvement in radicular lumbosacral pain when assessed between 2 and 6 weeks following the injection, compared to control treatments (Level C, Class I-III evidence). The average magnitude of effect is small and generalizability of the observation is limited by the small number of studies, highly selected patient populations, few techniques and doses, and variable comparison treatments;

2) in general, epidural steroid injection for radicular lumbosacral pain does not impact average impairment of function, need for surgery, or provide long-term pain relief beyond 3 months. Their routine use for these indications is not recommended (Level B, Class I-III evidence);

3) there is insufficient evidence to make any recommendation for the use of epidural steroid injections to treat radicular cervical pain (Level U).

This subject will be an intense topic of interest for the Anesthesiology Subcommittee at the annual meeting of the American Pain Society that meets in San Diego May 2009.   At best, epidural injections and nerve blocks are temporizing measures.  If the first one is less than effective, they are often done in a series of three.  One risk of frequent steroid injections is osteoporosis.

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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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