Spinal Cord Stimulators Reduce Opioid Use

By Pat Anson, Editor

Most patients who have a spinal cord stimulator significantly reduce their use of opioid pain medication one year after their implant, according to new industry-funded research.

In an analysis of private and Medicare insurance claims from 5,476 patients who received a spinal cord stimulator (SCS), opioid use declined or stabilized in 70 percent of the patients. Opioid use was higher among patients who had the stimulator removed.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the North American Neuromodulation Society (NANS), was sponsored by Abbott (NYSE: ABT), a manufacturer of SCS systems and other medical devices.

"Given the epidemic of opioid addiction and abuse, these findings are important and confirm that spinal cord stimulation therapy can offer strong benefits for patients struggling with chronic pain," said Ashwini Sharan, MD, president of NANS and director of Functional and Epilepsy Surgery at Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience.

"Based on these results, we concluded it may be possible to improve outcomes by offering our patients spinal cord stimulation earlier, before opioid dependence and addiction can occur."

Spinal cord stimulators have long been considered the treatment of last resort for chronic back and leg pain, because the devices have to be surgically implanted near the spine and connected to batteries placed under the skin. The implants send electrical impulses into the spine to mask pain.

Some patients find the stimulators ineffective and have them removed. According to one study, only about half of patients who received a traditional SCS device have a 50 percent reduction in their back and leg pain.

New technologies have been developed to make the devices more effective, easier to recharge and to reduce complications such as paresthesia – a tingling or buzzing sensation.

And with government regulators and insurers discouraging the use of opioid pain medication, the medical device industry is urging patients and doctors to take another look at SCS devices.



"As our society has been seeking ways to stem opioid abuse and addition, our company offers treatment options that can reduce their exposure to opioid medication," said Allen Burton, MD, medical director of neuromodulation at Abbott in a news release. "Data like these are critical to helping us demonstrate that spinal cord stimulation can reduce exposure to opioids while giving patients comprehensive pain relief."

Abbot recently purchased St. Jude Medical, giving the medical device maker its first exposure to the SCS and neuromodulation market, which has an estimated value of $5.3 billion.

"Non-medical pain relief is a focus with attention on the dangers of pain medication and the need to find alternatives to reduce chronic pain," said Bruce Carlson, Publisher of Kalorama Information, a research firm that tracks the neuromodulation market. "Abbott builds on its cardiovascular device properties with this deal, and that is a big focus of press coverage.  St. Jude's impressive spinal cord offering should not be obscured in this transaction."