Doctor Killed For Not Prescribing Pain Pills To Patient

pills doctor killedLast week one of my colleagues in the Pain Medicine community was shot and killed for not writing an opioid prescription to a patient. I was sent an email from a manager who came across the information in passing, and I was shocked at the incident.

The worst part of this incident was that the victim and colleague was once a medical student and then a medical resident with me while I was in training. I have not kept in touch with him but he was an excellent doctor and a caring individual. Unfortunately, that did not matter to the person who killed him. The only thing they understood was he did not feel it was indicated to prescribe opioids, which in retrospect was clearly the right choice.

Addictions and Opioid Dependence

Pain management and treating pain has always been more than prescribing medications like opioids. Anyone who has read this blog knows my field is all about how complex treating pain has become. If you as a patient believe that the only thing you can do for your pain is taking opioids, you likely have an issue with addiction that is far beyond just managing pain.

Addiction is a psychological problem and one does irrational things to obtain whatever substance you want for the dopamine support. The things one would do are beyond societal norms and are often illegal. The problem is not only about pain; it is about how to manage the addiction. There are countless ways to manage pain and unfortunately there often is not a cure. Pain management clinics are faced with the problems of opioid use every day and one of the most important jobs we have is to find other options beyond these medications to help patients. There is a shortage of professionals who have the training and ability to work in this challenging area, and it is tragic that someone has lost their life doing the right thing.

Alternatives To Opioids

Having pain is a common occurrence in this world. Worldwide about 30 percent of the population has problems with pain on a regular basis. The use of opioids to solve pain problems has become an American solution. The United States uses 95 percent of the narcotics produced in the world, yet we are only 5 percent of the world’s population. If your doctor is saying no to opioids, there usually is a good reason, and working with a specialist to find a better solution is indicated.  Most people, once they develop significant neck or back issues, will not be pain free, but one needs to make some life changes to control the symptoms. Pain is a tough medical issue and the United States does have an opioid epidemic.  

If it is upsetting that there are not better treatments for pain, become vocal about this problem. Start with your insurance company and with your legislators and make it known you want money to be spent on paying for more treatments for pain. Money is being spent on addiction but one of the more important issues is spending money on treating the pain problem before it becomes an addiction. Pain is a grueling and depressing part of life. There are hundreds of pain professionals trying to make life better for those suffering with pain, please do not let your anger out on them.

The Benefits Of Being An “Old School” Doctor

old school doctorSince I have been in practice, medicine has changed drastically over the years. Technology and improved practice standards have given way to great changes in the care of patients. When I first started in medicine, there were no electronic charts, most notes were handwritten, and computers were not a standard part of practice. CT scans were relatively new and the MRI scan was not yet invented. Medical students were trained to do a comprehensive history and then a physical exam. Part of the history had to include a detailed account of how the condition the patient has had developed over time. Another part was a detailed exam, including looking at the patient, often with minimal clothes obscuring the body. These are very simple things – listening to a story and looking at the patient.

Unfortunately, many doctors have lost the skill to be able to evaluate a patient. Oftentimes the patient has a classic story to tell and it fits exactly to a particular medical problem. Just spending a couple of minutes listening and asking some questions will lead you to the solution, and it probably matches a common or uncommon medical problem. After many years in practice, looking and listening to a patient tells most of the story of what is wrong.  Adding a physical exam will fill in the missing parts most of the time. The fancy diagnostic studies usually are a confirmation of the problem.

Relying On Technology

Many doctors are now trained using technology. The patient history is on the computer and the first thoughts are what do the studies indicate. If the picture (imaging) shows problems, then that must be what is wrong. Treating a test or picture can be okay, but the body has a remarkable way to adapt to changes, and the true problem is usually more complex then the picture and the way to navigate to a solution is to stop and ask the patient what is wrong, then correlate to an exam and picture.

Last week being old school paid off. A new patient showed up at my office frustrated that she had years of pain and no explanation. The patient had been everywhere, including the Holy Grail –The Mayo Clinic – and still no answer on what was wrong. The patient did have a confusing history, but it was important and the details gave the clues. Watching the patient walk and looking at her legs and arms was truly remarkable. The patient was in her 20’s and was significantly weak with loss of muscle bulk.

She had a significantly abnormal exam and likely had a serious muscle and nerve disorder. If the previous physicians only took the time, they would have figured out there was a problem and could have guided the patient towards better solutions years ago. Now, hopefully the patient can get the right diagnosis and help. It may take time and a few more tests, but an answer can be found. One of the best skills a doctor can have is the ability to listen and look at a patient. It is simple, but medicine has changed and doctors are rarely paid to take the time to do the basics.

The Benefits of Hyaluronate Sodium For Knee Osteoarthritis Injections

knee injectionsIn general, the development of hyaluronate sodium for knee osteoarthritis dates back to the early to mid 1990’s. The full mechanism on how these compounds work has not been fully understood, but it is believed that they stimulate the cells in the joints to produce joint fluid and thus provide lubrication and cushioning within the joint. In the United States, these compounds have only been FDA approved for the use in the knee joint, but around the world they have been used successfully in a number of joints including shoulders, hands, hips and feet.

Knee Joint Injections

The first compound used was Synvisc. This has been produced from the rooster combs (the flesh on the top of their head) and was highly refined. Initially, it was administered in a series of five injections and has gradually been changed to a single injection. Orthopedic knee surgeons were the first to perform such injections and still probably perform the most of these injections. Since it was the first product on the market, many physicians are likely to use it.

From experience, however, it has significant drawbacks. The number one is that since it is refined from an animal product, there is a definite significant percentage of people who will have an acute inflammatory reaction to this injection. The reaction in the joint is not distinguishable from a joint infection and does often require further intervention, from checking the patient for infection, aspirating the joint, possible hospitalization, and further injection of the joint with steroid.

Since the early 2000’s, artificial hyaluronate sodium compounds have been genetically engineered and are absolutely pure compounds without any material that could cause an allergic response. All these compounds are somewhat similar and have similar effectiveness. Again, initially they came in a series of five injections, but they then refined it to a series of three injections, and now some are a single dose injection. The effectiveness in a variety of studies ranges for reducing knee pain from about 10 percent of people to 30 percent and a maximum of up to 50 percent. Injections often have to be repeated every six months to be most effective.

Who Would Benefit From Knee Injections?

The indications for these injections are osteoarthritis of the knee. Patient selection includes those who cannot take NSAID medications like ibuprofen, those who have not had long relief with steroid joint injections or are limited with steroid use, and those who have mild to moderated degenerative changes to the joint.

Once a patient is found to be a candidate for hyaluronate sodium joint injections, product selection is the next issue. In reality, this is the grey zone for recommendations, and experience with these products is helpful. Manufacturers of the products are pushing the single dose compounds, which these are convenient, however from providers it seems these may be somewhat less effective at producing results than those that are a series of three injections. Again, patient selection may be the most important factor but this is hard to tell definitively. The products that are a series of five injections do not seem to work better than those that are three injections. Further, none of the products are really better than the others when they are genetically engineered pure chemicals.

Choosing the hyaluronate sodium products for injection is based now on several practical issues. The first is to choose an artificial product that is pure. From personal experience, it is a nightmare to deal with an inflammatory reaction to one of these products and the only one that has this issue has been Synvisc, and you’d be best to avoid this injection unless you have a very experienced orthopedic surgeon who can assess your risk of a bad reaction. The best results are from genetically engineered pure products that are a series of three injections, since these tend to induce the cells in the knee to produce joint fluid on their own.

Single shot products may not be as good at inducing the knee cells to produce lubrication from a technical standpoint. The choices then are from three products that include Hyalgan, Euflexxa, and Supartz. These should all produce relatively equal results for the patients, but again on average if the knee osteoarthritis is not extreme, relief in about 30 to 50 percent of the patients is expected. All these products are FDA approved for the knee and the services to provide injections are usually covered by all insurances and are not considered experimental.

The last selection criterion is based on product cost and if an insurance carrier has a specific drug preference. The recommendation for a hyaluronate sodium supplementation product therefore would be one of the three products that include Hyalgan, Euflexxa, or Supartz unless the insurance carrier requires a single shot product, either Orthovisc or Monovisc.

Beyond the above discussion, all these injections should be done with some type of visualization procedure, either fluoroscopy or ultrasound to prove needle location and delivery to the joint space. Secondly, for those patients who want the state of the art treatment and who can pay cash, studies indicate that PRP injections have about a 50 percent success rate for pain relief for at least six months at a time. Furthermore, for the cash paying clientele, they can also use hyaluronate products as well as PRP in many of the joints in the body with about a 50% percent success rate.

5 Things People With Chronic Pain Want You To Know

chronic pain knowLiving with chronic pain is difficult enough before you add in the stigma you have to deal with from other people. Hopefully your friends and family members are sympathetic to your condition, but even they don’t fully understand what you’re going through. Today, we want to share five things that people with chronic pain want you to know about their condition.

What We Want You To Know

Here are five things that patients with chronic conditions wish others knew about their condition.

We don’t want to be in pain

This may sound obvious, but sometimes people think individuals are just playing up their pain to get attention. Trust me, they’d trade all the attention in the world if they could live a pain free life. If they are talking about their pain, it’s because they want you to try and understand what they’re going through, not because they are craving attention.

Just because we don’t show it, doesn’t mean we’re not in pain

We put on a brave face and go about our daily life, but just because we’re smiling doesn’t mean we’re not in pain. Chronic pain patients often try to mask their pain because they don’t want to be seen as weak or injured, and some are great at hiding their pain. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel it with each step.

Keep reaching out

It’s impossible to predict when a flareup is going to occur, so if we say we can’t make it out to the mall or we cancel on movie plans at the last minute, we’re not trying to avoid you. We’re just dealing with a lot of pain and we’d be miserable, but we love that you’re reaching out. Keep texting and calling us, because we really do want to hang out. Don’t assume that we’re intentionally trying to avoid you, because we’re not.

We’re not in it for the drugs

We don’t want to be taking pain pills, but sometimes they are the only thing that makes it bearable to get through our physical therapy session. We’re not just popping pills and hoping the problem gets better, we’re actively working towards finding a solution through a combination of therapy techniques.

We’re not lazy

What’s easy for some is a huge burden to others. When chronic pain is at it’s worst, even getting out of bed in the morning can be difficult. Again, we’d trade anything for the chance to live without constant pain, but life doesn’t work like that. We’re not using chronic pain as a way to get out of work or doing chores. We’re trying our best, even if it doesn’t look like it.

Cutting Back On Opioids Could Reduce Pain

opioids cutting backIt may sound counterintuitive, but new research suggests that reducing long-term opioid intake could actually lead to lower pain levels in patients with chronic pain.

More than 10 million Americans are currently prescribed a long-term opioid to deal with a chronic pain condition. The number of people who get these prescriptions continues to grow, and not surprisingly so too do opioid overdose deaths. Used correctly, opioids can work wonders for individuals who have been struggling to find a way to take control of their chronic pain, but far too often they are overprescribed and knowingly or unknowingly abused.

Long-term opioids should only continue to be used if you’re still seeking active treatment options to address the painful condition. Since opioids are a passive treatment option, they are only masking the pain, and they aren’t actively working to correct the problem. They can work wonders when paired with active solutions like physical therapy or exercise because it can lessen pain during these crucial strengthening times, but if you’re not actively working towards a solution, long-term opioids are just dulling the pain while your body begins to crave larger doses of the drug to be effective, which can lead patients down the path of addiction.

Reducing Long-Term Opioid Intake

Researchers conducted a systematic review of 67 published studies in order to determine the effects of discontinuing long-term opioid therapy for patients with chronic pain conditions. Although they admit that the overall quality of evidence was not superb, they found an association between long-term opioid dose reduction and improvements in pain, function and quality of life.

“It’s counterintuitive that pain and well-being could be improved when you decrease pain medication…but patients felt better when dosages were reduced,” said Dr. Erin Krebs, medical director of the Women Veterans Comprehensive Health Center, part of the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, and an author of the study.

However, study authors echoed what we’ve been saying in this blog, that long-term opioid reduction shouldn’t be done by itself. It should be reduced with the oversight of a licensed physician and paired with other multidisciplinary approaches and behavioral interventions to continue actively pursuing pain reduction and function improvement. Hopefully future studies can take a closer look at this idea and provide some clearer solutions with stronger evidence so we can continue doing everything in our power to help patients fight back against their chronic pain conditions.