Proposal: A 5-Year Study of Best Methods to Treat Intractable Pain


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PROPOSAL

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A controlled trial to improve care for chronic pain:

The study to understand prognoses and preferences for

outcomes and risks of treatments

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Model after Joanne Lynn’s 1995 SUPPORT Study

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A controlled trial to improve care for seriously ill hospitalized patients:

The study to understand prognoses and preferences for

outcomes and risks of treatments (SUPPORT)

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Proposal

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A controlled five-year trial to improve care for outpatients with chronic pain. The study will be designed to understand prognoses and preferences related to the outcomes and risks of various treatments.

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The focus:

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Intractable pain, those who have failed pain medications and procedures or those with moderate to severe pain who only partially respond.

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Study polypharmacy, compare medications that may show synergy or that additively improve relief.

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Study and search for glial modulators – medications that reduce proinflammatory cytokines.

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Problem

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Research is needed to give persons with intractable pain the data and the confidence that they can affordably use to choose the best treatment needed to get their lives back again. They have already spent tens of thousands. They may be unable to work. We all need these options.

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There are a few small islands in this country doing a radical experiment in managing pain without opioids [narcotics, the police term] as discussed in the New York Times in May 2014, and the 2008 Mayo Clinic study. Efforts such as these need to be supported with data as soon as possible in order to reduce the burden of disability and pain in our society, especially our youth, our children, our veterans, our aging seniors, well everyone. We can be productive and we want to be.

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I have seen remarkable outcomes, pain that failed to respond to all known pain medications, going into partial and even total remission, lives restored after weaning off opioids and appropriate treatment given.

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We cannot expect any medication to work every time. How often can we achieve better results after opioids are tapered off? Opioids may prolong pain in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome where remission seems possible only after they are stopped, yet opioids may be essential in many forms of chronic pain. We need data on the radical experiment to manage pain without opioids, and determine how best to manage chronic pain with them.

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Opioids have a long history of being the drug of choice to treat chronic intractable pain by doctors who lack information and training about other exciting options now coming to the fore. Compounding the problem is the fact that physicians do not know how to diagnose musculoskeletal pain and do not know how that good physical therapy is actually effective.

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Healthcare providers need data about all the options to begin to address the toll that chronic intractable pain exacts and government worldwide need to know what is cost effective and possible. Many countries cannot obtain opioids.

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We must not be insensitive to the financial burden that frustrates patients when they spend tens of thousands of dollars for drugs that provide little if any benefit.

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Investment in developing nonopioid treatments for pain does not even begin to compare to the investment in opioids for pain. The few medication choices we have are not enough. Often they fail to help. Expensive drugs are not the best choice if they are not affordable or they are limited to diabetic neuropathy when more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy have been identified, plus many more types of even more severe neuropathic pain not classified as neuropathy. Shall we continue to ignore all those because FDA has classed these few new drugs for diabetic neuropathy exclusively?

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Let me be clear, prescription of opioids is justified and they are valuable. Opioids are on the World Health Organization list of ten essential drugs. BUT there is little or no research on treatment of intractable pain without opioids.

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Neuropathic pain, nerve pain, is the most difficult to treat. Neuropathy, radiculopathy, transverse myelitis, adhesive arachnoiditis, central pain, RSD, Guillain-Barre, trigeminal neuralgia, Tic Douloureaux, post herpetic neuralgia, to name a few. It is not enough to limit research of neuropathic pain to diabetic neuropathy when it fails to address all other causes. When FDA approves a drug only for diabetic neuropathy, insurers deny the drug for the other 95% of you without diabetes. Insurers may choose to read guidelines as mandates, fiats,  marching orders.

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Neuropathic pain is not the only concern. Physicians do not know how to diagnose musculoskeletal pain. How can they if only 3% of medical schools teach pain management and when doctors do not know how to assess ineffective physical therapy when they have never seen better.

A patient dislocated her hip 7 times, manually repositioned each time in ER. The 6th surgeon impinged a wide band of muscle in the joint causing muscle all down the thigh to bulge 5 to 7 mm high, of rock hard spasm with intense relentless pain. The 7th surgeon had the gentle ability to restore position and release the entrapment. A light touch across the thigh even through clothing can detect the cause. Would a surgeon have discovered to release the entrapment unless she had dislocated a 7th time? Simple muscle strain, undiagnosed by a surgeon who deals with muscle all the time, was not even noticed and he ignored the acute pain it caused. She has now learned how to avoid dislocating that new hip. Had the muscle not been appropriately identified as cause, she would not be able to move by now. But the surgeon should have had the skills to notice instantly before those muscles became chronically strangled. She was referred for manual physical therapy and thankfully, before all else could occur, she dislocated and was repositioned by the 7th surgeon. A wonderful teaching case for a teaching hospital that should be every hospital. Grand Rounds for pain cases.

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MAJOR FUNDING DECLINE IN PAIN RESEARCH

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 BEFORE 2008

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 BEFORE CONGRESS CUT NIH BUDGET BY UNTHINKABLE 30% IN 2010

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Perhaps the biggest impediment to gathering data about pain management is the lack of government funding for pain research and lack of a Pain Institute at NIH. If not, funding will continue to be fragmented and split elsewhere, not to learn about one of the most costly problems in every society.

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In 2008, before the worldwide depression, pain research was in major decline. The AAAS, the American Association for Advancement of Science told us then:

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“Federal funding for pain research is declining sharply, more than 9 percent a year since 2003, according to a new study published in The Journal of Pain. Pain research, as a result, now accounts for only 0.6 percent of all grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), despite the high prevalence of chronic pain in the U.S.

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“This startling finding shows the government’s meager investment in pain research is seriously out of proportion with the widespread chronic pain incidence in our society, which is estimated at one in four Americans and accounts for more than 20 percent of all physician office visits,” said Charles E. Inturrisi, president of the American Pain Society and professor of pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. “And this disparity is not attributable to years of budget cuts at NIH because the Journal of Pain study clearly shows pain research has a higher percentage decline than the overall NIH budget. So the drop in agency funding has not affected all research areas equally.”

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[emphasis mine.]

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Research in pain was sharply declining prior to 2008. Then a 30% cut across the board in 2010. Thank the American Pain Society for those ancient 2008 figures. No one had ever asked – which is why we need a Pain Institute at NIH.

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Frustration is compounded the last few years by insurers no longer willing to authorize many opioids and non-opioid medications, even generics.

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As for the cost of opioids,  a single opioid for one patient may exceed $80,000 per month when the patient is required to use with another long acting opioid, and often several nonopioid adjuncts just to bring pain down from 9 on scale of 10, to a slightly more bearable 7 or 8 which is severe, relentless and prevents sleep and ability to concentrate. One drug that costs pennies to make, sells for $80,000 a month to allow 4 a day when at least 6 a day are needed and it is only one of many for pain every day.

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Prescription of opioids is justified and may be invaluable.

but there is little or no research on

 treatment of intractable pain without opioids.

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We need national consensus guidelines based on data

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We must do a better job treating intractable pain. We need guidelines that have more to offer than the few opioids and few adjuvants we now have, so few in number, so great the need. Can we know when is it true that opioids are indicated? Our use is many times more than all the other First World countries?

 

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Treatment must be individualized

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Data is needed to guide choice

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Compounded Medications are among the

most useful drugs we have for treatment of intractable pain

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Compounded medications may be the only ones that help, and can reduce pain to zero. We can re-purpose the delivery of any medication, as long as it has been FDA approved. But the last few years insurers have been discontinuing coverage for compounded medications and Medicare has never covered them.

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This must change. Who is funding that political blockade that denies coverage for compounded medicine? The cost may be $120 for one compounded medication vs $80,000 for one opioid. Either way, the person with intractable pain likely needs 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 medications, compounded or not. Who can afford $400 per month out of pocket for compounded medications that work, when insurance will not cover the affordable drugs. Who can afford that out-of-pocket expense if insurers cover nothing for your pain, neither the bright shiny opioid or the compounded sprays, capsules, suspensions, creams, troches, as well as the essential solutions instilled into the bladder for interstitial cystitis?

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This must change. Lawmakers must be called to account for allowing and perpetuating the inhumane taking advantage of those who suffer intractable pain.

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A first step in getting lawmakers to pay attention is to amass a body of compelling data.

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BALANCE IS NEEDED

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The United States as a society cannot afford for pain research to die and go bankrupt and leave only opioids as the standard treatment for hundreds of types of pain. Someone has to begin the needed studies. It does not just bankrupt the patient, it leaves us all bankrupt, the country most importantly. It ends marriages, tears apart families. To be struck down as a child with intractable nerve pain the rest of your life, or be struck in your prime, is devastating. And disability gets routinely denied for pain. Why? Perhaps because pain is taught in only 3% of university medical schools. How are doctors to imagine that pain can end lives when they have no experience seeing how disabling it can be?

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 If doctors cannot see the devastating toll that pain takes,

how can we expect accountants to see it?

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The Study We Need

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Solution

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 To gain a comprehensive and compelling picture of how pain impacts the population and how to effectively treat it we need a large-scale study:

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  • Five years in duration

  • 10,000 outpatients – statistically this must be adjusted to obtain multiple outcomes

  • At five major university teaching hospitals for regional differences

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 Outcomes

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The study will yield important information about the following:

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  • Efficacy

  • Pain Numeric Rating Scores, Percent Improvement

  • Functional Improvement, etc

  • Compounded medications

  • Racial and Gender Disparities

  • Addicts who have chronic pain

  • Top notch manual physical therapy* [see below], not for what passes in most places. This must change ASAP. United States is far behind other countries. Even if the condition is neuropathic, it often becomes musculoskeletal after splinting for months, years

  • Interventional procedures

  • Meditation

    How you brain can heal your body and your body heal your brain.

  • Pain changes DNA, neurotransmitters. Have we permanently changed them with opioids?

  • Polypharmacy. When employing one drug alone is unlikely to lead to a successful outcome.

  • Stem cells for joint pain – autologous lipid derived mesenchymal stem cells

  • rTMS, experimental after 20 years, is it still better for acute than for chronic pain?
    Who will benefit, for how long? How many weeks of relief for that $15,000 investment?

  • Glia, the Innate Immune System

Opioids create pro-inflammatory cytokines that create pain and opioid tolerance.

Restore cytokine balance, reduce inflammation and pain.

Which of our existing medications either trigger or reduce inflammatory cytokines in the CNS?

  • Pain in the person with Alzheimers dementia

  • Danger of combining opioids with benzodiazepines

  • Danger of long term use of opioids (regardless if short or long acting)

  • Appropriateness of using opioids as a first choice in acute pain (loss of a milk tooth, sore throat in a teenager, acute back pain, ankle strain, etc.)

  • Appropriateness of opioid holidays.

  • Post op pain can be avoided completely with combined use of oral low dose naltrexone and ketamine IV anesthesia. Patients discharged directly from recovery room with no need for pain medication for months or years

  • Cost Benefit Analysis

 

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Five Conditions Will Be Studied

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Strong emphasis must be placed on neuropathic pain that so often fails to respond to any intervention

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1. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

The Netherlands invested €25 million over 5 years to study this one devastating pain condition, far out of proportion to the incidence in that small country. There are pain specialists who cannot recognize it and/or doctors who routinely deny disability for this devastating pain, like death in life.

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2. Low Back Pain

Define criteria for surgery.

If we wait too long before surgery is done, will we ever reverse the chronic pain that has set in?

Have we condemned that patient to monthly visits for opioid the remaining 50 years of their life?

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3. Other neuropathic pain conditions such as adhesive arachnoiditis, trigeminal neuralgia, transverse myelitis, Tic Douloureaux, Post Herpetic Neuralgia, Interstitial Cystitis, Vulvodynia, Proctalgia, Pudendal Neuropathy


4. Painful peripheral neuropathy nondiabetic and Painful Small Fiber Neuropathy  all forms of painful neuropathy

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5. You choose – central pain?

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What We Must Do Now

 

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  • Find a pain advocate like the cancer advocate of the 1950’s that changed attitudes for research

  • Fund the pain SUPPORT study

  • This will spin off enormous research ideas that we must begin separately to implement with research as each develops, the need is beyond urgent. How many more years can we make everyone wait?

  • Write letters, to congress, the White House. Real letters, not email, not signature lists. Congress will not hear us unless we speak in very, very large numbers.

  • Help the topic of intractable pain become a part of the 2016 presidential conversation.

  • Incentivize teaching hospitals to teach pain management and to develop options for nonopioid treatment of chronic intractable pain. Pain is a multidisciplinary field, not limited to Anesthesiology procedures.

  • Create an Institute for Pain Management in addition to the 28 institutes at NIH, three of which are for addiction, none for pain. Pain is the number one reason people seek medical help.

  • Require that pain specialists sit on the FDA advisory committees for pain medication – none recently.

  • Require insurance coverage for compounded medications.

  • Prevent FDA from limiting medication to cancer pain.
    Cancer pain does not exist.

    There are basic types of pain that occur in persons who have cancer, neuropathic pain being worse than other forms of “cancer pain.” It has the same medication response or failure to respond as persons whose pain is not due to cancer.

  • How do we restrict the use of opioids to severe pain when there is nothing else to offer and after everyone is started on opioids by their family doctor years before they see a pain specialist?

  • Novel and ancient methods for treatment of pain should be explored including cannabis and possibly hallucinogens

  • Isolation of pharmacologically important medicine from rainforest and deep seas must be done before they disappear.

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Physical Therapy is the #1 Key to Chronic Pain

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Manual Physical Therapy was introduced to the United States in the late 1970’s but is rarely practiced or not done well. It does not mean “hands on.” It derives from techniques brought to us by British Commonwealth and Scandinavian countries. Our healthcare providers do not know how to differentiate between good and useless practices. Fortunes and lives are wasted hinging on that distinction. Pills never can undo the harm brought about by common musculoskeletal issues – and our providers have no training in recognizing simple muscle trigger points, let alone intractable connective tissue contractures. My patients have been misdiagnosed as histrionic, drug seeking, personality disorders, and worse. It boils down to ignorance and lack of basic training, let alone believing what the patient says and not having the tools to help.

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The trend is for year long residency programs following the 3 year Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT).  The year long residency program is a very positive step.  The limitations are that it is a year with a clinical staff that may have a specific perspective.  The push towards evidence based practice is a reasonable step but should not exclude considerations of outside the box treatment options.

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The osteopathic manipulative technique has been a cornerstone of best education for physical therapists.  The craniosacral approach is an offshoot from that tradition.  When we get to visceral mobilization, the evidence is much harder to produce but that does not have me shy away from its application.

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Movement is critical for the hormonal regulation of the body.  Chronic stasis leads to numerous changes that compound an underlying medical diagnosis.  We see that with a 16 y/o female, Lyme’s disease, CRPS diagnosis, bedridden for years.  She is significantly benefiting from stretching dysfunction and improving axial extension.  Another who quit walking had global lower limb connective tissue contracture.  Walking is currently limited by soft tissue contracture through the tarsal tunnel, affecting the plantar nerves and the burning and tingling with walking greater than 5 minutes at a time.  Mobilizing the soft tissues will ultimately restore function. This 20 year old quit college due to pain and one first visit requested motorized wheelchair and Social Security Disability. This young person will walk again.

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There is no end point to this educational process except when we think we know it all.  No certification, no degree, no one course signifies competency.  Ongoing intellectual curiosity is the most important element in preparation.

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Prescription painkiller overdose epidemic in the U.S.

Not in other countries

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Pain Management centers at major universities closed in 1991. They lose money, are time consuming, require team conferences that are not reimbursable. Thus began the era when prescription opioids took off for noncancer pain, and no one was generating nonopioid approaches to chronic pain. Anesthesiologists shifted to procedures – that is their focus after all. Procedures are not applicable to many types of pain.

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“Since 1999, the amount of prescription painkillers prescribed and sold in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.”

from the CDC report of prescription painkiller overdose epidemic

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I feel I have failed when I have to point out to my own patient whose pain is severe, that the high dose opioid I have prescribed is not helping, or is creating pain; when I know there are other options which are not available because the FDA has not approved them or because they are prohibitively expensive. I have failed when so many medications I prescribe are not on the formulary.

 

We need a mandatory formulary available for those with intractable pain.

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There were 16,651 deaths from prescription opioids in the U.S.in 2010, “Starting with 4,030 deaths in 1999….” “…nearly 60 percent of the drug overdose deaths (22,134) involved pharmaceutical drugs. Opioid analgesics, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, were involved in about 3 of every 4 pharmaceutical overdose deaths (16,651).” It’s far higher now. A CDC report stated that one in every 20 U.S. adults has a history of [opioid] use – not abuse, but use.

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Monitor risk, yes, but that should not get all the investment. Many addicts would not be there if there were better treatments for pain, if they had not been given opioids after a minor procedure or injury that is better treated with real therapy, not drugs.

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People with pain do not mention the pain has taken their lives. We may see them as weak. That young child with fractures on the ball field is going to need the best care so pain does not become chronic. Give him or her opioids and opioids cause pain, pain becomes worse, intractable before the 6th grade. That is not an addict, but that child and his or her parents are often treated like addicts, at least with suspicion, drug seeking. What is best for that child with chronic pain when she becomes pregnant? When nursing? Think of our young veterans, some with 3 or 4 different pains, and each type addressed differently. What if either of them was an addict before the pain? If we don’t treat them, they will turn to drugs. What are the best, most efficient, options for treatment of intractable pain? When will we learn? We need to identify and treat before it becomes chronic.

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Chronic pain can be reduced or eliminated in many situations now even possibly without drugs, provided the issue is properly identified – and that will never happen until providers are educated in how to identify first class physical therapy. Further research will help to release persons with intractable pain from the prison that too often makes them feel that life is unbearable and that they can more easily face death. We all need to wake up to this situation.

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If we continue to passively allow nothing to be done, then there may be nothing to help us when we fall into the sudden bind of intractable pain when we wake up one day with shingles or a pinched nerve or when pain of the face prevents us from eating or sleeping or speaking or even wanting to live. It will be too late.

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Sharp like a razor’s edge is the path,
The sages say, difficult to traverse.

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Shall we let those we love hang on the edge while we fail to move this multi-tentacled monster forward? How do we light the fire that enables us to solve this fearful fragmentation of choices?

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See how beautifully it works when the right combinations are brought together?

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Yellow rose blue hibiscus

 

 

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.
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It is not legal for me to provide medical advice without an examination.

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

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If you wish an appointment, please telephone the office to schedule.

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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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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Being Positive


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I don’t know how the Great Recession may be affecting your mood, but for those with chronic pain, it is often difficult to nurture and maintain a positive attitude.  At times when we need the most help, we may be most reluctant to appreciate the benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but that’s how we get help to reorder our thoughts in positive ways that are healing.

A Randomized Trial of a Cognitive-Bahavior Intervention

Compared to information giving and educational approaches, the risk for developing a long-term disability was lowered nine-fold for the cognitive-behavior intervention group. The cognitive-behavior group also demonstrated a significant decrease in physician and physical therapy use as compared with two groups receiving information, in which such use increased. These findings underscore the significance of early interventions that specifically aim to prevent chronic problems.

More recent research is reported by London’s syndication, The Independent, that tells us how much our attitude is harming ourselves.  Don’t forget, it harms everyone you love and constricts their lives too.  But the right frame of mind can lower your pain and other health risks.

PAIN

People showing dispositional optimism may be better able to cope with pain and need less medication. A study at Michigan State University on cancer patients shows that those who were more optimistic tended to report less severe pain. A study at the University of Alabama showed that patients who were optimistic used less medication for pain relief. “More optimistic adolescents are better able to match their medication use to their pain severity. Future research should examine how other psycho-social factors might influence pain medication use in adolescents and adults, and clinicians should take into account psychosocial factors when working with pain populations.”

CANCER

Women who are happy and optimistic may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. The research also show that adverse life events, such as loss of a loved one or divorce , can increase the risk. Results from the study at Ben Gurion University in Israel show that exposure to more than one adverse life event was associated with a 60 per cent increased risk of disease, while happy and optimistic women were 25 per cent less likely to have the disease. “A general feeling of happiness and optimism seems to play a protective role,” say the researchers. “The relationship between happiness and health should be examined in future studies and possible relevant preventive initiatives should be developed,” say the researchers.

MORTALITY

A review of research into the association between positive wellbeing and mortality shows a signifciant link. The University College London analysis of 35 studies showed that positive psychological wellbeing was associated with an 18 per cent reduced mortality in healthy people and a 24 per cent lower risk in sick people. “Positive feelings – emotional well-being, positive mood, joy, happiness, vigour, energy – and life satisfaction, hopefulness, optimism, sense of humour, were associated with reduced mortality. Results suggest that positive psychological wellbeing has a favourable effect on survival in both healthy and diseased populations.

HEART DISEASE

The positive-minded have a 55 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease, according to the results of a study which followed 500 men aged 54 to 84 for 15 years. “Our results demonstrate a strong and consistent association between dispositional optimism and lower risk of cardiovascular mortality,” says the researchers from The Netherlands Institute of Mental Health, Delft. Just how low optimism may lead to cardiovascular death, is, say the authors, an intriguing, but unanswered question. One possible mechanism, they say, is that optimism is related to better coping behaviour. Another study at the University of Pittsburgh, and based on 200 women diagnosed with thickening of the arteries, showed that over a 15-year period, the disease progressed more slowly in those women classed as optimists. Other research has shown that optimists have a lower risk of rehospitalisation after coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

The article also covers the field of research as it applies to blood pressure, longevity, infections, even the common cold……..

Practice makes perfect.  Take time out to give yourself some love.  Doctors too.

And read Diana’s blog to see how the addition of 3 kittens have added so much to her family’s mood.  Even if you can’t have a pet, you can still enjoy a friend’s.

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

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

Merck Manual

End of Life Care Resources

Tool Kit for Health Care Advanced PlanningAdvance Directives & Do Not Resuscitate Orders

Dementia

Caregiving a parent with dementia

Multiple Sclerosis

Caregiving a person with Multiple Sclerosis

Clinical Research Protocols at NIH

Clinical Trials at NIH

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

First Aid – CPR

First Aid for Seizures

Smoking Cessation

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

This service should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your healthcare provider.

Communicate promptly with your provider with any health related questions or concerns.

 

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