Common Meds Can Cause Cognition Problems in Seniors

By Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News

By all accounts the woman, in her late 60s, appeared to have severe dementia. She was largely incoherent. Her short-term memory was terrible. She couldn’t focus on questions that medical professionals asked her.

But Dr. Malaz Boustani, a professor of aging research at Indiana University School of Medicine, suspected something else might be going on. The patient was taking Benadryl for seasonal allergies, another antihistamine for itching, Seroquel (an antipsychotic medication) for mood fluctuations, as well as medications for urinary incontinence and gastrointestinal upset.

To various degrees, each of these drugs blocks an important chemical messenger in the brain, acetylcholine. Boustani thought the cumulative impact might be causing the woman’s cognitive difficulties.

He was right. Over six months, Boustani and a pharmacist took the patient off those medications and substituted alternative treatments. Miraculously, she appeared to recover completely. Her initial score on the Mini-Mental State Exam had been 11 of 30 — signifying severe dementia — and it shot up to 28, in the normal range.

An estimated 1 in 4 older adults take anticholinergic drugs — a wide-ranging class of medications used to treat allergies, insomnia, leaky bladders, diarrhea, dizziness, motion sickness, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and various psychiatric disorders.

Older adults are highly susceptible to negative responses to these medications. Since 2012, anticholinergics have been featured prominently on the American Geriatrics Society Beers Criteria list of medications that are potentially inappropriate for seniors.

“The drugs that I’m most worried about in my clinic, when I need to think about what might be contributing to older patients’ memory loss or cognitive changes, are the anticholinergics,” said Dr. Rosemary Laird, a geriatrician and medical director of the Maturing Minds Clinic at AdventHealth in Winter Park, Fla.

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Here’s what older adults should know about these drugs:

The Basics

Anticholinergic medications target acetylcholine, an important chemical messenger in the parasympathetic nervous system that dilates blood vessels and regulates muscle contractions, bodily secretions and heart rate, among other functions. In the brain, acetylcholine plays a key role in attention, concentration, and memory formation and consolidation.

Some medications have strong anticholinergic properties, others less so. Among prescription medicines with strong effects are antidepressants such as imipramine (brand name Trofanil), antihistamines such as hydroxyzine (Vistaril and Atarax), antipsychotics such as clozapine (Clozaril and FazaClo), antispasmodics such as dicyclomine (Bentyl) and drugs for urinary incontinence such as tolterodine (Detrol).

In addition to prescription medications, many common over-the-counter drugs have anticholinergic properties, including antihistamines such as Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton and sleep aids such as Tylenol PM, Aleve PM and Nytol.

Common side effects include dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, disorientation, agitation, blurry vision, dry mouth, constipation, difficulty urinating and delirium, a sudden and acute change in consciousness.

Unfortunately, “physicians often attribute anticholinergic symptoms in elderly people to aging or age-related illness rather than the effects of drugs,” according to a research review by physicians at the Medical University of South Carolina and in Britain.

Seniors are more susceptible to adverse effects from these medications for several reasons: Their brains process acetylcholine less efficiently. The medications are more likely to cross the blood-brain barrier. And their bodies take longer to break down these drugs.

Long-Term Effects

In the late 1970s, researchers discovered that deficits in an enzyme that synthesizes acetylcholine were present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. “That put geriatricians and neurologists on alert, and the word went out: Don’t put older adults, especially those with cognitive dysfunction, on drugs with acetylcholine-blocking effects,” said Dr. Steven DeKosky, deputy director of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida.

Still, experts thought that the effects of anticholinergics were short-term and that if older patients stopped taking them, “that’s it — everything goes back to normal,” Boustani said.

Concerns mounted in the mid-2000s when researchers picked up signals that anticholinergic drugs could have a long-term effect, possibly leading to the death of brain neurons and the accumulation of plaques and tangles associated with neurodegeneration.

Since then several studies have noted an association between anticholinergics and a heightened risk of dementia. In late June, this risk was highlighted in a new report in JAMA Internal Medicine that examined more than 284,000 adults age 55 and older in Britain between 2004 and 2016.

The study found that more than half of these subjects had been prescribed at least one of 56 anticholinergic drugs. (Multiple prescriptions of these drugs were common as well.) People who took a daily dose of a strong anticholinergic for three years had a 49% increased risk of dementia. Effects were most pronounced for people who took anticholinergic antidepressants, antipsychotics, antiepileptic drugs and bladder control medications.

These findings don’t constitute proof that anticholinergic drugs cause dementia; they show only an association. But based on this study and earlier research, Boustani said, it now appears older adults who take strong anticholinergic medications for one to three years are vulnerable to long-term side effects.

Preventing Harm

Attention is now turning to how best to wean older adults off anticholinergics, and whether doing so might improve cognition or prevent dementia.

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Researchers at Indiana University’s School of Medicine hope to answer these questions in two new studies, starting this fall, supported by $6.8 million in funding from the National Institute on Aging.

One will enroll 344 older adults who are taking anticholinergics and whose cognition is mildly impaired. A pharmacist will work with these patients and their physicians to take them off the medications, and patients’ cognition will be assessed every six months for two years.

The goal is to see whether patients’ brains “get better,” said Noll Campbell, a research scientist at Indiana University’s Regenstrief Institute and an assistant professor at Purdue University’s College of Pharmacy. If so, that would constitute evidence that anticholinergic drugs cause cognitive decline.

The second trial, involving 700 older adults, will examine whether an app that educates seniors about potential harms associated with anticholinergic medications and assigns a personalized risk score for dementia induces people to initiate conversations with physicians about getting off these drugs.

Moving patients off anticholinergic drugs requires “slow tapering down of medications” over three to six months, at a minimum, according to Nagham Ailabouni, a geriatric pharmacist at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy. In most cases, good treatment alternatives are available.

Advice for Older Adults

Seniors concerned about taking anticholinergic drugs “need to approach their primary care physician and talk about the risks versus the benefits of taking these medications,” said Shellina Scheiner, an assistant professor and clinical geriatric pharmacist at the University of Minnesota.

Don’t try stopping cold turkey or on your own. “People can become dependent on these drugs and experience withdrawal side effects such as agitation, dizziness, confusion and jitteriness,” Ailabouni said. “This can be managed, but you need to work with a medical provider.”

Also, “don’t make the assumption that if [a] drug is available over the counter that it’s automatically safe for your brain,” Boustani said. In general, he advises older adults to ask physicians about how all the medications they’re taking could affect their brain.

Finally, doctors should “not give anticholinergic medications to people with any type of dementia,” DeKosky said. “This will not only interfere with their memory but is likely to make them confused and interfere with their functioning.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Task Force: Canada's Chronic Pain Patients ‘Simply Deserve Better’

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

In March, Health Canada created a new national task force to study how to prevent and treat chronic pain and remove barriers to pain treatment. Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor called it “the first step in addressing the issue of chronic pain in this country.”

One in five Canadians lives with chronic pain and -- like their counterparts in the United States -- many have trouble just finding a doctor willing to treat them. Some patient advocates were skeptical of Health Canada’s task force and its plan to release an initial report this summer, followed by two more reports in 2020 and 2021. It sounded like bureaucratic foot dragging.

“We are happy they are actually acknowledging chronic pain is an issue. However, the time frame is wrong and a little bit too late,” said Barry Ulmer of the Chronic Pain Association of Canada (CPAC).

Four months later, that initial report from the task force has now been released. It calls pain a “significant public health issue” in Canada and admits the nation’s healthcare system often fails to treat pain patients. Efforts to rein in opioid prescribing — such as Canada’s opioid guideline — have made a bad situation worse.

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“Some Canadians have been unable to access opioid medications when needed for pain and function. Others have faced undue barriers to obtaining or filling their opioid prescriptions, and some have had their opioid dose abruptly lowered or discontinued. This has resulted in unnecessary pain and suffering, and has led some Canadians to obtain illegal drugs to treat their pain,” the task force found.

“People living with pain have limited access to the services they require and often face stigma and undue suffering as a result of their condition. This stigma often intersects with other forms of discrimination related to poverty, housing and employment instability, mental illness, race and ethnicity, and other factors further complicating the challenge of living with pain. Canadians living with pain and their loved ones simply deserve better.”

Patients Not Believed

In its short history, the task force completed an ambitious review of pain care in Canada; holding public workshops, meeting with federal and local governments, and consulting with healthcare providers and researchers. Importantly, the panel also reached out to the pain community and invited 12 Canadians living with chronic pain to share their experiences. Many said they had poor access to pain care or were not believed by healthcare providers.

“I was bounced between various outpatient clinics and utilizing the ER multiple times a month and making no progress,” one patent said. “I was consistently questioned whether or not I was making up the pain for attention, or if the pain was due to a mental health condition.” 

“While I am fortunate to be seen periodically by a pain specialist, I do not have access to a multidisciplinary pain clinic where key services, such as physiotherapy and psychology are provided. Many patients in my community have even less (or no) access to a pain specialist and are unduly suffering as a result. They do not know where to turn,” another patient said.

“I found the transition from the pediatric pain clinic to the adult pain clinic very difficult. At the pediatric pain clinic they have a multi-disciplinary team, which include a psychologist, a physiotherapist, a nurse, and a pain specialist. At the adult pain clinic they only have a physician who is amazing but is overstretched, sometimes I can only get an appointment every 6 months,” another patient told the task force. 

Pain Education Lacking

Improving pain education in Canada’s medical schools was one of the first goals identified by the task force. In a review of 10 Canadian universities, the panel found that 68% of the medical programs were not providing any designated hours for pain education.  Incredibly, veterinary students receive 2 to 5 times more pain education than that of health science students.

The panel also found that pain care in Canada is largely dependent on where people live and what type of insurance they have; that pain patients need better access to psychological support, physical therapies and other healthcare services; and that more research and better evidence is needed to help providers make informed decisions on pain care.

“This report makes Health Canada aware of what Canadians with pain have known for too long: that pain care is largely not accessible, many health care providers lack the knowledge and skills to manage pain and breakthroughs in research are hampered by lack of funding,” said Maria Hudspith, co-chair of the task force and Executive Director of Pain BC, a patient advocacy group in British Columbia.

“We hope this report lays the foundation for a national pain strategy that will improve the lives of Canadians who live with pain.”

Not everyone is happy with the direction the task force is taking. CPAC called it a “knee jerk” reaction to the pain crisis that continues to spread stigma about pain patients and their use of opioid medication.

“You see it again in this report,” CPAC’s Ulmer said in a statement. “Pain patients are supposedly often mentally ill—somehow, the need for relief has been recast as mental illness, though it seems pretty sane to me. And patients are repeatedly said to be at high risk of addiction.”

Last month, a federal task force in the U.S. released a final report on recommended best practices for pain management. It found nearly identical problems as the panel in Canada — and called for a balanced approach to pain treatment that focuses on individualized patient care, not rigid prescribing guidelines that have triggered a pain crisis for millions of Americans.

 

5 Million U.S. Cancer Survivors Live with Chronic Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Over five million cancer survivors in the United States live with chronic pain, a fast-growing population that is expected to double by 2040 due to the aging of the population, early cancer detection and advances in treatment, according to a new study by the American Cancer Society.

Chronic pain is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy and other forms of cancer treatment, but until now there has been little information on its prevalence among cancer survivors.

Researchers looked at data from the National Health Interview Survey from 2016-2017 and found that about a third of cancer survivors (34.6%) have chronic pain. About one in six (16.1%) have “high impact” chronic pain (HICP) – defined as pain that limits life or work activities on most days.

Based on that survey data, researchers estimate the total number of cancers survivors in the U.S. at 15.5 million. About 5.39 million of them have chronic pain and 2.51 million have high impact chronic pain.

“We found the prevalence of chronic pain and HICP among cancer survivors to be almost double that in the general U.S. population. Chronic pain and HICP were more prevalent in survivors who were unemployed and who had low socioeconomic status, inadequate insurance, and had some specific types of cancer,” researchers reported in JAMA Oncology.

“The patterns of chronic pain that we observed in cancer survivors may be explained by barriers to cancer care and pain management as well as by the type and extent of cancer treatment received.”

One barrier to pain management stems from efforts to rein in opioid prescribing to prevent abuse and addiction. While the 2016 CDC opioid guideline is intended for “noncancer” patients, it is also applies to patients “who have completed cancer treatment, are in clinical remission, and are under cancer surveillance only.”

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Two experts in oncology and palliative care at the University of Pennsylvania say the CDC’s inclusion of cancer survivors was a mistake because it is not uncommon for cancer pain to persist long after a cancer is treated.  

“Unfortunately, this arbitrary distinction is not consistent with the evidence of pain trajectory in cancer survivors,” Neha Vapiwala, MD, and Salimah Meghani, PhD, wrote in an op/ed also published in JAMA Oncology. “Similar levels of pain were reported in survivors who were still receiving cancer treatment and those who had completed active cancer treatment.”

It’s not uncommon for cancer patients undergoing active treatment to be denied pain medication. Many doctors are reluctant to prescribe opioids, regardless of the diagnosis.

“My cancer doctor will no longer prescribe pain meds for me because I now see a pain doctor. The pain doctor doesn't understand the new cancer drug I'm on and that the side effects of this drug are pain, so he is very reluctant to manage my cancer pain,” a patient with lymphoma told us. “Many days I wonder if it would just be better to let the cancer take its course than to be scrutinized and treated like a criminal.”

April Doyle is being treated for Stage 4 terminal breast cancer, but a Rite Aid pharmacist refused to fill her prescription for Norco because he was worried about being fined or even losing his job. April’s video about the experience went viral.

“I have to take 20 pills a day just to stay alive,” she explains in the video. “Every time I take my pain pill prescription there, they give me the runaround. They don’t have enough in stock or they need me to come back tomorrow because they can’t fill it today. Or something stupid. It’s always something and it’s always some stupid excuse.”

The American Cancer Society study found that chronic pain was most common among cancer survivors treated for bone, kidney, throat-pharynx and uterine cancers.  About half still had pain after their cancer treatment ended.

A Gut Feeling About Fibromyalgia

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Over the years there’s been a lot of speculation about what causes fibromyalgia – everything from gluten and genetics to childhood trauma, spinal fractures and a weakened immune system.

About 5 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, a poorly understood disorder characterized by deep tissue pain, fatigue, mood swings and insomnia. It can take years for a patient to be diagnosed and treatments are often ineffective – in part because of uncertainty about what actually causes fibromyalgia.

For the first time, researchers at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal have found an association between gut bacteria and fibromyalgia. It’s not clear whether the microbes cause fibromyalgia or if they are a symptom, but the discovery opens the door to new forms of treatment and diagnosis. The findings are being reported in the journal Pain.

"We found that fibromyalgia and the symptoms of fibromyalgia — pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties — contribute more than any of the other factors to the variations we see in the microbiomes of those with the disease,” said lead author Amir Minerbi, MD, of the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit at McGill University Health Centre. 

“We also saw that the severity of a patient's symptoms was directly correlated with an increased presence or a more pronounced absence of certain bacteria - something which has never been reported before."

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Minerbi and his colleagues enrolled 156 women in their study – about half had fibromyalgia and the rest were a healthy control group. Participants were interviewed and gave stool, blood, saliva and urine samples, which were then compared.

Researchers found that the two groups had strikingly different types and amounts of gut bacteria. Nineteen different species of bacteria were found in either greater or lesser quantities in the gut microbiomes of fibromyalgia patients than in the healthy control group.

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For example, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, one of the most abundant and well-studied bacteria in the human gut, was found to be depleted in fibromyalgia patients. It is believed to block pain and inflammation in the intestines.

Other bacteria associated with irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and interstitial cystitis were found to be abundant in the fibromyalgia patients, but not in the healthy control group.  

The bacterial differences don’t appear to be related to diets, lifestyles or genetics, since some of the healthy participants lived in the same house as the fibromyalgia patients or were their parents, offspring or siblings.

"We used a range of techniques, including Artificial Intelligence, to confirm that the changes we saw in the microbiomes of fibromyalgia patients were not caused by factors such as diet, medication, physical activity, age, and so on, which are known to affect the microbiome," says Minerbi.

Researchers say it's not clear whether the changes in gut bacteria seen in fibromyalgia patients are simply markers of the disease or whether they play a role in causing it. Because fibromyalgia involves a cluster of symptoms, the next step will be to investigate whether there are similar changes in the gut microbiome of patients with other types of chronic pain, such as back pain, headaches and neuropathic pain.

“This is the first evidence, at least in humans, that the microbiome could have an effect on diffuse pain, and we really need new ways to look at chronic pain." said senior author Yoram Shir, MD, Director of the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit

If their findings are confirmed, researchers think their discovery could speed up the process of diagnosing fibromyalgia.

"By using machine learning, our computer was able to make a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, based only on the composition of the microbiome, with an accuracy of 87 per cent. As we build on this first discovery with more research, we hope to improve upon this accuracy, potentially creating a step-change in diagnosis," says Emmanuel Gonzalez, PhD, Canadian Center for Computational Genomics and the Department of Human Genetics at McGill University.

Several previous studies have suggested an association between diet and fibromyalgia. Donna Gregory Burch says her fibromyalgia symptoms improved when she went on a gluten-free diet. Studies show that consuming food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) can worsen symptoms, while foods rich in Vitamin D can help reduce joint and muscle pain.

16 Key Findings about Arachnoiditis

By Forest Tennant, MD, PNN Columnist

We initiated the “Arachnoiditis Research Project” about 6 months ago. Our first goal was to pull together what we have learned to this point. While we continue to gather new information, this short report is an interim attempt to get our findings into the patient and practitioner communities.  

This report is not intended to be a formal protocol or guideline, but a way to pass on what we have found and determined during the course of our learnings.  Please keep in mind that research is neither static nor absolute.  In the future, newer findings will likely both clarify and expand upon our initial findings as presented in this report.    

Frankly, the response to the Arachnoiditis Research Project has been overwhelming. Each day we receive inquiries from patients and practitioners. Patients want help. Practitioners want to know what to do.

We have now reviewed over 300 MRI’s of Adhesive Arachnoiditis (AA) cases. We have received inquiries from 5 continents and over 17 countries. One thing is clear. The need to research and identify treatment for AA is here.  

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The goal of our research is to bring AA treatment to every community worldwide. How? By developing both diagnostic and treatment protocols that can be implemented by any medical practitioner in every community. Here is what we have learned so far:

16 Findings about Adhesive Arachnoiditis  

  1. Treatment efficacy is best achieved by the simultaneous administration of a three component medication program to suppress neuroinflammation, promote neuro-regeneration (nerve regrowth), and provide pain control to function. Medication for these three categories can be competently prescribed by any primary medical practitioner.  

  2. The most common cause of lumbar sacral AA is no longer dural puncture or trauma but intervertebral disc deterioration and spinal stenosis, which has forced cauda equina nerve roots to rub together causing friction, inflammation and adhesion formation.  

  3. Although there is no single symptom that uniquely identifies AA, there are a few symptoms that the majority of AA patients will usually have.  A simple 7-question screening questionnaire has been developed to help in identifying potential AA. If a patient answers “yes” to at least four of the seven questions in the test, they should immediately be evaluated by a physician to confirm the diagnosis.  

  4. A contrast MRI or high-resolution TESLA-3 or higher MRI can be used to visualize the cauda equina nerve roots and show abnormal swelling, displacement, clumping, and adhesions between clumps and the arachnoid layer of the spinal canal covering.  A greater number and larger size of clumps is generally associated with the most severe pain and neurologic impairments.  

  5. Some MRI’s are inconclusive or equivocal even though typical symptoms may be present.  In these cases, therapeutic trials of anti-neuroinflammatory drugs and pain control are warranted.  

  6. Spinal fluid flow impairment is common in AA patients and appears to be a cause of headache, blurred vision, nausea, and dizziness.  Obstruction or back-up of fluid can often be seen on an MRI.   

  7. Spinal fluid “seepage” throughout the damaged arachnoid layer and wall of the lumbar sacral spine covering is common and can be a cause of pain, tissue destruction and severe contraction that causes restriction of extension of arms and legs.  A physical sign of chronic seepage is indentation of tissues around the lumbar spine.  

  8. Pain due to AA appears to be a combination of two types: inflammatory and neuropathic (nerve damage).  It may also be centralized with what is called “descending” pain.  Proper pain control may require medicinal agents for all types.  

  9. There is currently no reliable laboratory test for the presence of active neuroinflammation, although certain markers (by-products of inflammation) such as C-Reactive Protein and myeloperoxidase may sometimes show in the blood.  Neuroinflammation may go into remission, but it may also act silently to cause progressive nerve root destruction.  

  10. Basic science and animal studies show the neuro-steroids (hormones made inside the spinal cord) have the basic functions of neuroinflammation suppression and neuro-regeneration stimulation.  Our observations clearly indicate that the patients who have improved the most have taken one or more of the hormones reported to reduce neuroinflammation and promote and support neuro-regeneration.  

  11. Patients who have had AA for longer than 5 years must rely on aggressive pain control to function and achieve recovery.  After a long period of untreated neuroinflammation, scarring of nerve roots is too severe for much regeneration to occur.  

  12. The drugs and hormones required for suppression of neuroinflammation and promotion of neuro-regeneration do not need to be taken daily to be effective and prevent side effects.  Medical practitioners have a choice of agents, and they can be competently prescribed by primary care practitioners.  We have found that three times a week dosing is usually quite sufficient.

  13. Persons who have developed AA without warning, trauma or chronic disc disease have often been found to have a genetic connective tissue disorder of which the most common are Ehlers-Danlos syndromes.  

  14. Cervical neck arachnoiditis is primarily a clinical and presumed diagnosis as there are no nerve roots to clump and observe on MRI.  The key MRI finding is spinal fluid flow obstruction and the major clinical symptom is extreme pain on neck flexing.  

  15. Only ketorolac among the anti-inflammatories, and methylprednisolone among the corticoids are routinely effective in AA.  Other anti-inflammatories and corticoids either do not cross the blood brain barrier or therapeutically attach to glial cell receptors.  

  16. Some seemingly unrelated compounds found to suppress microglial inflammation in animal and invitro studies also appear to have therapeutic benefit as neuroinflammatory suppressors in AA patients.  These include pentoxifylline, acetazolamide, minocycline and metformin.

The Tennant Foundation has also released an enhanced protocol for primary care physicians who treat AA patients. You can find the protocols and research reports on our website.

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Forest Tennant, MD, MPH, DrPH, has retired from clinical practice but continues his groundbreaking research on the treatment of intractable pain and arachnoiditis.

This report is provided as a public service by the Arachnoiditis Research and Education Project of the Tennant Foundation and is republished with permission. Correspondence should be sent to veractinc@msn.com

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

WHO Recognizes Chronic Pain as Disease With New Coding System

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The World Health Organization has adopted a new classification system for chronic pain, assigning it the code ICD-11 in a revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). It’s the first time the ICD will include a specific diagnostic code for chronic pain, along with sub-codes for several common chronic pain conditions. 

The new classification system is important because it treats chronic pain as a distinct health condition and as a symptom to an underlying disease. It also takes into account the intensity of pain, pain-related disability, and psychosocial factors that contribute to pain.

“The inclusion of the new classification system for chronic pain in ICD-11 is an important milestone for the pain field,” says Lars Arendt-Nielsen, MD, President of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), which headed a task force that developed ICD-11.

The new coding system will make it easier for physicians to diagnose, classify and get treatment for chronic pain patients. Insurers will use the new codes to authorize payments and researchers can use them to more easily track and measure the effectiveness of therapies. That’s the good news. 

The bad news is that the ICD changes won’t formally take effect until January 1, 2022. 

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Under the current system, chronic pain conditions are poorly categorized under the code ICD-10, which makes it difficult for complex conditions such as fibromyalgia and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) to be classified. That led some physicians to diagnose patients with unexplained pain as having a somatic symptom disorder. 

“A diagnosis of somatic symptom disorder implies that the pain is caused by a behavioral, that is, mental condition. However, it is not appropriate to diagnose individuals with a mental disorder solely because an alternative medical cause cannot be established,” Jaochim Scholtz, MD, an IASP task force member, explained in Practical Pain Management.  

Under the new coding system, patients with fibromyalgia or CRPS could be classified as having a “primary pain” disorder, one of seven new sub-codes for chronic pain conditions:

  1. Chronic primary pain

  2. Chronic cancer-related pain

  3. Chronic post-surgical or post-traumatic pain

  4. Chronic neuropathic pain

  5. Chronic secondary headache or orofacial pain

  6. Chronic secondary visceral pain

  7. Chronic secondary musculoskeletal pain.

There is some overlap between the different diagnostic codes. For example, neuropathic pain can be a symptom of cancer or chemotherapy, while trigeminal neuralgia could fall under neuropathic or orofacial pain. The idea is to give physicians a range of codes to choose from instead of the limited choices they have today.

“The integration of chronic pain in ICD-11 sends a strong signal that pain will achieve appropriate representation in this international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions,” said Scholtz. “The coding system also provides fundamental information for the identification of health trends and healthcare planning. It is widely hoped that the new systematic classification of chronic pain in the ICD-11 will support epidemiological, and other research that is essential for the development of future health policies.”

The classification system was outlined in a free online article published in the January 2019 issue of PAIN.

American Pain Society Likely to File for Bankruptcy

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The board of directors of the American Pain Society (APS) is recommending to its members that the organization cease operations and file for bankruptcy, PNN has learned.

The APS is a non-profit, research-based organization that focuses on the causes and treatment of acute and chronic pain. Although many of its members are researchers and academics who are investigating non-opioid treatments for pain, the APS has been named as a defendant in numerous “spurious lawsuits” involving opioid prescriptions.

“Despite our best efforts, APS was unsuccessful in its attempts to resolve these lawsuits without the need for what will no doubt be lengthy and expensive litigation. The anticipated time-consuming and costly litigation combined with the declining membership and meeting attendance has created the perfect storm placing APS in a precarious financial position,” the board said in a letter sent to its members yesterday.

“Constrained by these unfortunate circumstances, we do not believe APS can continue to fulfill its mission and meet the needs and expectations of our members and community.”   

In order to proceed with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, only 10% of the organization’s 1,173 active members need to approve the board’s recommendation. Assuming there are sufficient votes, an independent third party trustee would then be appointed by a bankruptcy judge and all lawsuits pending against APS will be subject to an automatic stay.

“This will allow APS to minimize legal expenses and maximize recoveries for its creditors, as opposed to future dissipation of assets in defending the lawsuits which have no end in sight,” the board wrote.

The APS membership vote will be tallied May 29th.

Sad day for U.S. pain research, education, advocacy and patient care,” APS member and Stanford University psychologist Beth Darnall, PhD, tweeted to her followers.

In recent years, thousands of lawsuits have been filed by states, cities and counties seeking to recover billions of dollars in damages caused by the “overprescribing” of opioid pain medication. The lawsuits initially focused on Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers, but have recently expanded to include opioid distributors, wholesalers, pharmacies and professional medical organizations like the APS as defendants.

If the APS files for bankruptcy, it would be the second pain management organization to cease operations in recent months. In February, the Academy of Integrative Pain Management (AIPM) shutdown, largely due to financial problems.  

“It's really sad that pain organizations are failing,” said Bob Twillman, PhD, the former Executive Director of AIPM. “I'm not clear about the extent to which this was an anticipated or desired outcome of the lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, but it strikes me that an effort to say that we've been harming people by treating pain the wrong way has now eliminated two organizations focused on treating pain the way every guideline now says it should be treated, and on discovering new treatments that might obviate the need for opioids.”

Twillman says the shutdown of APS and AIPM will cause “significant gaps in the field” of pain management.

“The unintended consequences here may end up being quite ironic," he added.

Guilt by Association 

Like other professional medical organizations, APS relied on corporate donors to help pay for its annual meetings and widely respected publication, The Journal of Pain. That meant accepting nearly $1 million in donations from Purdue Pharma, Janssen, Depomed and other opioid manufacturers.

It also meant being targeted by lawyers and politicians in a campaign of guilt by association.

In 2018, APS was one of the medical societies and patient advocacy groups singled out by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in a Senate report that accused the organizations of being mouthpieces for opioid manufacturers. 

“Initiatives from the groups in this report often echoed and amplified messages favorable to increased opioid use — and ultimately, the financial interests of opioid manufacturers,” the report found.

McCaskill’s report failed to mention that she accepted nearly $500,000 in campaign donations since 2005 from the national law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy, which represents many of the plaintiffs involved in opioid litigation. It has named the APS as a defendant in several of those lawsuits, along with American Academy of Pain Medicine and American Geriatric Society “for working with the manufacturing defendants in promoting opioids to doctors and patients.”

Simmons Hanly Conroy was the third largest contributor to McKaskill during her losing bid for re-election last year, donating over $400,000, an amount seven times larger than it gave to another candidate in 2018, according to OpenSecrets.org.

According to its website, Simmons Hanly Conroy currently represents governmental entities in Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, and eight New York counties in opioid lawsuits. The law firm reportedly stands to collect one-third of the proceeds from opioid settlements, which could potentially reach $50 billion, according to a Bloomberg analyst.

‘Corrupting Influence’

APS is also mentioned in a congressional report released this week by Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Hal Rogers (R-KY). The “Corrupting Influence: Purdue and the WHO” report accuses the World Health Organization of being unduly influenced by Purdue Pharma and other opioid makers when it developed guidelines in 2011 and 2012 to treat pain in adults and children.

“The web of influence we uncovered, combined with the WHO’s recommendations, paints a picture of a public health organization that has been manipulated by the opioid industry,” the report said. “The investigation revealed that multiple organizations that claimed to be independent patient advocacy groups, including the American Pain Society, received significant payments from opioid manufacturers.”

The report does not mention that Rep. Clark has also accepted significant payments from drug makers. According to OpenSecrets.com, Clark has received over $522,000 in campaign donations from the healthcare industry since 2013, including donations from Pfizer, Celgene, Takeda, Biogen, Vertex, AstraZeneca and Sanofi.

Rep. Rogers has received over $581,000 in campaign donations from the healthcare industry during his 30 years in Congress.