The Power of the Pen

By Michael Emelio, Guest Columnist

It's my hope that this column can serve as a powerful example of the harm that can be caused when people are denied adequate pain management. And in so, I pray that it also serves as a lesson to doctors and is something that our lawmakers, CDC and DEA will take a moment to seriously consider.

To understand the full magnitude of the damage that's been caused, I implore you to read a guest column I wrote last year, in which I described how the opioid medication I take for intractable back pain was rapidly tapered to a lower dose, leaving me bedridden and disabled.

It's high time that the harm being inflicted on me and other innocent victims of the opioid crisis is both acknowledged and stopped!

While I can totally sympathize with a doctor's fear of repercussions from the DEA, there comes a point where it's no longer a valid or acceptable excuse. One of those points is when a doctor, with no medically valid reason, refuses to sufficiently treat a person's pain and it results in harm to that patient.

And when a doctor refuses to prescribe a reasonable opioid dose (especially one that is within the CDC opioid guideline) and it causes a patient's condition to significantly worsen, how are they not responsible for that harm?

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Speaking with other patients, I've been hearing a familiar story quite a bit lately. So much in fact, that it appears to be becoming an epidemic. Doctors with no medically valid reason are either failing or refusing to prescribe even within the CDC’s 90 MME guideline, while using the same old "well the DEA threatens to take our licenses away" excuse. 

Not only is it getting old, but it's getting people hurt and worse. And when I say that excuse is killing me, I may just mean literally!

Since the tapering started, I've gained 55 pounds and my blood sugar and cholesterol have soared to alarming rates. So in addition to all the things I can no longer do and my pain and suffering increasing, I'm now at risk of both heart disease and diabetes. Irrefutably, this is a direct result of being bedridden 24 hours a day due to the med cuts.

But it doesn't stop there. Adding insult to injury, these med cuts are also robbing me of the only chance I have to improve my condition.

Surgery Not An Option

It cannot be emphasized enough that I've seen several highly-acclaimed surgeons, who are absolutely unanimous in what options I have. They've all said the same thing: Surgery is not an option for me and due to the nature of my condition I should avoid any invasive procedures as they can make my pain worse. This includes spinal injections, radiofrequency ablation, spinal cord stimulators and pain pumps, to name a few.

They've all said that the only viable options I have left are pain meds and physical therapy. The latter is essential because “mobility is crucial to help reduce the pain and improve function.” And to slow my rate of deterioration, I should do “as much physical therapy as possible." 

So by denying me the ability to complete physical therapy due to his forced med cuts, my doctor is not only robbing me of my only chance for improvement, he is directly causing my condition to worsen at an accelerated rate. Despite explaining all of this to him, my doctor informs me that he still plans on reducing my meds even further!

On what planet does this make any sense whatsoever? When you consider all the aspects of my condition and the damage the previous met cuts have already caused, how can this be helpful in any way, yet be a necessary or even a reasonable course of action?

Especially when I'm only at 60 MME, which is considerably less than the CDC's 90 MME guideline. Furthermore, I've been a patient of his for over a year and a half and have proven to take my medications responsibly the entire time, as well as the previous 18 years I've been in pain management.

Because of the CDC guideline and the fear instilled by the DEA, my doctor is covering his ass and slowly killing me.
— Micahel Emelio

Think about this for a minute. I have a medical need for pain meds because of an incurable condition that is causing such severe intractable pain that I'm bedridden to the point that I struggle to care for myself properly. It’s also a condition where surgery and invasive procedures are not an option, all other methods and medications have failed, and the only chance for improvement is through physical therapy. Then add the fact that my health is in a serious state of decline as a direct result of the med cuts, and he still wants to cut them even more?

Unless you're in this boat yourself, you can't fathom the level of stress this causes. I'm literally afraid I may have a heart attack from it.

You have to understand the impact that just one more med cut would have on me. I live alone, have no one to help me, and with the dose I'm currently at, I'm already struggling most days just to microwave a TV dinner, yet alone clean my house or even care for myself properly. If he cuts my meds any further, the effect it will have on my life will be devastating.

As I sat in my car outside his office, the only thing I could think about was that if he reduces my meds any further, not only will my pain be unbearable, but I won't even be able to care for myself anymore. Being alone and poor, I only see two options at that point: street drugs or suicide. 

Make no mistake. That is the hand that is being forced on people when intractable pain is not treated!

Never in a million years could I have imagined being in this position. But sadly, this is my reality. And the truly astonishing part of it all is that he could stop all this damage and immensely change my life for the better tomorrow, simply by prescribing 2 more tablets a day, which would still be within the CDC guideline.

But no! Because of the CDC guideline and the fear instilled by the DEA, my doctor is covering his ass and slowly killing me. It's both staggering and terrifying knowing how much control he has over my life with just the swipe of his pen.

Which brings me to an interesting point. In medical school they teach about a thing they call the "power of the pen." It means to make sure that what they prescribe doesn't cause harm to the patient. I just wish my doctor realized that the power of the pen works both ways!

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Michael Emelio lives in Florida. Michael lives with severe degenerative disc disease, scoliosis and fibromyalgia. He has safely used opioid medication since 2001.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org.

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.

Praying for a Miracle

By Stephanie King, Guest Columnist

Up until May of 2010, everything was pretty easy going as far as my health was concerned. I was a happily married 22-year old and mother of a sweet one-year old boy. Then one fateful afternoon all of that changed.

There was a bad storm that day but we had to pay bills. My family and I ended up hydroplaning off the road and crashing into trees.

Luckily, our son was unharmed and my husband, while it was bad, suffered nothing worse than a broken leg.

I had the worst of the injuries and needed surgery. I broke my right foot in three places and my back in five. One of those breaks was a compression burst fracture, which means that my vertebrae basically exploded from pressure. 

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Unfortunately, I also developed MRSA, a severe and dangerous bacterial infection. This meant packing the open, oozing wounds every day. Instead of getting better, the infection spread through my back and within a couple of months turned into sepsis. Two more surgeries and six months later, I was finally infection free.

A few years later, my pain was increasing due to degenerative disc disease and arthropathy, so my pain specialist started pushing epidural steroid injections. I was already on fentanyl and MS Contin, so I figured I would give it a shot. This would be the biggest mistake of my life.

I ended up having about ten injections. The last one caused extreme levels of pain and my body felt strange that night. I refused to get any more after that. 

Not long afterwards, I began developing neurological pain that I wasn't used to. Sometimes it felt like warm water running down my legs. Sometimes it was stabbing and biting sensations. Sometimes it felt like my bones were snapping. I didn't make the connection between the epidural and the nerve pain. I assumed it was a pinched nerve, because my back was so messed up. 

STEPHANIE KING

STEPHANIE KING

Then in the fall of 2016, my inner calves began to go numb. The numbness rapidly spread up my legs and into my groin. My GP admitted me into the hospital and I had an MRI done.

That day I heard the words I will never forget, the words that changed my life forever: Adhesive Arachnoiditis.

It was explained to me that this is a disease where scar tissue is engulfing spinal nerves, blocking the flow of spinal cord fluid because of inflammation of the arachnoid lining around the nerves.

The more I learned about Arachnoiditis, the more I realized I was doomed to a lifetime of unrelenting pain, a level of pain some doctors have compared to that of bone cancer. I learned of the possibility of paralysis. I learned how there is no cure, just medication to try to manage the disease symptoms and slow down its spread.

I was devastated but kept pushing on, ignoring the pain as much as possible.

Just over a year later, I learned something else. My birth control had failed. I was pregnant with our daughter. My pain specialist immediately dropped me. My obstetrician panicked and tried to get me in with another pain management doctor due to fear of a miscarriage.

I kept hearing how no one would see someone who was pregnant and not already an established patient at their practice. I was referred to a neurologist, but he told my doctor that there was nothing that he could give me that would be safe during pregnancy.

During my pregnancy, the Arachnoiditis symptoms increased tenfold. The burning in my feet and hands became unbearable. I'm one of the "lucky" Arachnoiditis patients who has scar tissue far enough up their spine to effect my arms and hands as well. I began jerking uncontrollably and developed tremors. I spent most of my pregnancy crying and screaming.

We have a beautiful daughter now! She is so sweet and smart! Unfortunately, my symptoms never subsided. I still don't have a pain management doctor. No pain specialist will see me.

I fear I was red flagged for doctor shopping, even though it was just my obstetrician trying to get me treatment. I have finally started seeing a neurologist but until he has reviewed all of my MRIs, no treatment will be given. I won't see him again for another month.

I live in never-ending pain. I rely on family a lot to help care for my children while my husband works. I have come to realize I have no good options at this point. I can continue on in pain and being a total burden to my family, just becoming more burdensome over time.

I could turn to marijuana but it is illegal in my state. My children could be taken away and I could go to prison. I could commit suicide but that would scar my children and further hurt the rest of my family. I am stuck.   

There are times I pray for death. I pray for the body I once had. I pray I could be the mother and wife I once was. I pray for anything to make it stop, even for just a little while. I pray for a miracle.

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Stephanie King lives in Alabama.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org. 

The information in this column 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.

Enough Is Enough!

By David Eaton, Guest Columnist

Back in 2007, when my back pain became so severe that it was affecting my ability to work, I wrote an email to my boss using the subject line, "Enough is Enough!"

My pain level was hindering my ability to concentrate so much that, despite having a college education, I had to ask a friend how to spell the word "place." I could not figure out why "plase" sounded right but looked so wrong.  

The previous night, I could not even read a lesson to the teenagers at my church, despite the fact that I had taught the exact same lesson twice before -- and I was the one who wrote it.

Pain medication and procedures such as epidural nerve blocks and RFA treatments kept my pain under control for most of the past decade, until the CDC introduced its opioid prescribing guideline. As a result, I have been bedridden for most of the past month.

My pain issues began 40 years ago in my senior year of high school, when I was in a motor vehicle accident which resulted in me being thrown through the rear window of the car and landing 35 feet away on my head. The impact caused a compression fracture at the base of my neck and damage to multiple discs as well.

Within a few years, it became necessary for a neurosurgeon to cut a section out of both of the occipital nerves going up the back of my neck and into my scalp as a long-term treatment for the massive headaches I was having.

Unfortunately, the nerves grew back together after 35 years and the migraine headaches have returned --- along with nerve related pain caused by disc degeneration and arthritis.

DAVID EATON

DAVID EATON

Another auto accident 25 years ago caused my knees to slam into the hard dash of my minivan. During the ambulance ride to the hospital, the paramedics told me that I would likely be using a cane within 5 years and in a wheelchair within a decade. They were not far off. I managed to go 13 years before the pain in my knees became so severe that I could no longer climb in and out of my car or walk into the office.

Now, after being on disability for a decade, I am unable to straighten my legs. Attempting to stand, much less walk a step or two, is both excruciating and impossible.

And, if you order right now, we will include a free congenital birth defect that resulted in severe stenosis in my lower back. This was only magnified when I suffered a slipped disc 12 years ago.

It was at that time that I was referred to a pain clinic, which used a combination of medications and procedures to control my pain. Those treatments were very successful. While they did not eliminate the pain, they were at least able to keep it at a manageable level until the CDC stuck their nose between my doctor and myself.

Their guideline has resulted in some pain clinics not prescribing anything stronger than what you can get over the counter. While I am sure that part of the clinics’ decision making included the fact that they make profits off of additional office visits, as well as surgical procedures, the end result is the same: Patients are left hurting and becoming depressed to the point of suicide.  

My doctors regularly question me about suicidal thoughts, as well as a list of other mandatory questions any time I even hint at being depressed. The truth is that I am depressed and have been for quite some time, but even more so now that the pain is so much more severe.

The CDC guideline, a knee-jerk reaction to the opioid epidemic, has resulted in my daily use of extended release opioids to be cut in half. This led to a doubling of not just the amount, but the severity of my pain.

To make matters worse, a change in insurance coverage resulted in me having to be treated by a different pain clinic. The new doctor took me completely off anti-inflammatory medication for the arthritis in my back, neck and knees. The resulting pain wakes me up at the slightest movement. The pain in my knees is so excruciating when I attempt to get from my bed or recliner and into my power chair for a trip to the restroom, that that I put it off as long as I can. 

In addition, the sensory nerves in my legs are now so inflamed that I feel as if someone is stabbing me to the bone or trying to pry off one of my toenails.  I feel as if someone has poured boiling hot coffee down my legs, giving me severe burns on my thighs.

Like I said, enough is enough! I have more pain than I can handle. Something has to give and I am praying that it is a relaxation of the CDC guideline. Maybe it would help if I could get a medical transport van to carry me to the CDC so I could pour a pot of hot coffee down some guy's pants and then check the severity of his burns by repeatedly stabbing him with a meat thermometer.

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David Eaton resides outside of Atlanta, GA with his wife of 36 years. He has 2 grown sons, both married, and 4 beautiful grandkids. Prior to becoming disabled, David worked in the IT field. He was also heavily involved in his church, where he taught Sunday school and served as Youth Minister.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org. 

The information in this column 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.

An Old Disease Returns in Modern Times

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Dr. Forest Tennant may no longer be practicing medicine, but he continues his groundbreaking research into the causes and treatment of adhesive arachnoiditis (AA), a chronic, progressive and painful inflammation of spinal nerves.

Once a rare disease linked in the 19th century to infections such as syphilis and tuberculosis, arachnoiditis is re-appearing in surprising numbers and for completely different reasons. Tennant believes millions of Americans may have developed AA, which is often misdiagnosed as “failed back syndrome” – chronic back pain that fails to respond or grows worse after invasive spinal procedures.

“I think it’s now the number one cause of really severe pain in the country. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” says Tennant. “When I closed my clinic, about 70% of the people in there who had to take high dose opioids had an issue with arachnoiditis.”

Tennant and co-author Ingrid Hollis have written a new book -- “Adhesive Arachnoiditis: An Old Disease Re-Emerges in Modern Times” -- to help doctors and patients recognize the symptoms of AA and to offer hope for treating a disease long thought to be incurable.

Why is AA re-emerging?  Tennant says a “perfect storm” began to appear around the year 2000, when longer lifespans, obesity and sedentary lifestyles contributed to more cases. Lack of exercise has long been associated with chronic back pain.

Arthritis, accidents, repetitive stress injuries and even Lyme disease can also cause degenerative spinal conditions that lead to AA.

“But the real factor contributing is probably sedentary lifestyles. Look at the number of people spending 6 to 8 hours a day in front of a computer or TV screen,” says Tennant. “I’m really trying to bring attention to the fact that people need to be aware that this is something that can happen because of our lifestyles.”

As more Americans sought treatment for back pain, millions were given “interventional” procedures such as epidural steroid injections and spinal surgeries – a trend that appears to have increased as opioids fell out of favor. While most interventional procedures do not result in complications, all it takes is a single misplaced needle or scalpel to damage the spinal cord and trigger a lifetime sentence of AA.

“Everybody wants to blame the epidurals and the surgeries for these problems, but they were only doing these things when there were medical indications for them. And if they do the surgeries and the epidurals, a certain percentage of them are going to get arachnoiditis,” Tennant told PNN.

“There is a risk/benefit to these procedures. If you start going in and operating on the spine or you have half a dozen epidural injections, you start increasing your risk for developing adhesive arachnoiditis. One of the points I want to make is that it is the underlining spinal conditions that are causing the problems. The interventions and the surgeries may accelerate it, but the condition was already set.”

For many years, Tennant was one of the few doctors in the U.S. willing to treat AA patients with high doses of opioids. Intractable pain patients from around the country traveled to California to see Tennant – which led to his home and office being raided by the DEA in 2017. No charges were ever filed against Tennant, but the stress of being investigated led to his retirement from clinical practice.

Tennant now consults with other doctors and is developing new protocols for treating AA with hormones and drugs that reduce pain and inflammation while stimulating nerve growth. His book includes a self-screening test for patients and a list of AA symptoms.

Most essential in any AA diagnosis is a good MRI of the spine. Tennant has a library of over 300 MRI’s sent to him by patients and doctors in dozens of countries — a testament to how AA is re-emerging worldwide.

(Dr. Tennant and the Tennant Foundation have given financial support to Pain News Network and are currently sponsoring PNN’s Patient Resources section.)  

Medicare to Cover Acupuncture in Pilot Program

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

A week after a federal report documented a significant decline in opioid prescriptions among Medicare beneficiaries, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has taken a tentative step to cover acupuncture as an alternative treatment for chronic low back pain.

Under a CMS proposal, patients enrolled in clinical trials of acupuncture sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or in studies approved by CMS would be covered under Medicare’s Part D program. CMS has been collaborating with the NIH in studying acupuncture as a treatment of chronic low back pain in adults 65 years of age and older.

In a statement, CMS acknowledged that while “questions remain” about acupuncture’s effectiveness, interest in the therapy had grown in recent years as a non-drug alternative to opioids.  

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese form of treatment that involves the insertion of fine needles into various points on the body to alleviate pain and other symptoms.

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“Chronic low back pain impacts many Medicare patients and is a leading reason for opioid prescribing,” said CMS Principal Deputy Administrator of Operations and Policy Kimberly Brandt. “Today’s proposed decision would provide Medicare patients who suffer from chronic low back pain with access to a nonpharmacologic treatment option and could help reduce reliance on prescription opioids.”

Currently, acupuncture is not covered by Medicare. CMS is inviting public comment on the proposal to gather evidence and help determine if acupuncture is appropriate for low back pain. Comments will be accepted through August 14.

“Defeating our country’s epidemic of opioid addiction requires identifying all possible ways to treat the very real problem of chronic pain, and this proposal would provide patients with new options while expanding our scientific understanding of alternative approaches to pain.” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Spending on Opioids Peaked in 2015

Medicare Part D spending on opioid prescriptions has been falling for years. It peaked in 2015 at $4.2 billion and now stands at its lowest level since 2012, according to a report released last week by the HHS Office of Inspector General.

The decline in opioid prescriptions appears to be accelerating. Last year, 13.4 million Medicare beneficiaries received an opioid prescription, down from 14.1 million in 2017.

SOURCE: HHS OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL

SOURCE: HHS OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL

The Inspector General identified over 350,000 Medicare patients as receiving high amounts of opioids, with an average daily dose great than 120 MME (morphine milligram equivalent) for at least three months. The CDC opioid guideline recommends that daily doses not exceed 90 MME.  

The report highlighted the case of an unnamed Pennsylvania woman who received 10,728 oxycodone tablets and 570 fentanyl patches in 2018. Her average daily dose was 2,900 MME. She received all of her opioid prescriptions from a single physician.

The report said there were 198 prescribers who “warrant further scrutiny” because they ordered high doses of opioids for multiple patients.

“Although these opioids may be necessary for some patients, prescribing to an unusually high number of beneficiaries at serious risk raises concerns. It may indicate that beneficiaries are receiving poorly coordinated care and could be in danger of overdose or dependence,” the report found.  “Prescribing to an unusually high number of beneficiaries at serious risk could also indicate that the prescriber is ordering medically unnecessary drugs, which could be diverted for resale or recreational use.”

Under a new federal law, CMS is required to identify and warn “outlier prescribers of opioids” on an annual basis about their prescribing patterns. Medicare insurers could also require high-risk patients to use selected pharmacies or prescribers for their opioid prescriptions.

Do You Really Need Spine Surgery?

By David Hanscom, MD, PNN Columnist

In today’s medical environment, big business is taking over in almost every realm. The focus is on productivity, instead of ensuring the highest quality of care. For spine surgeons like myself, the revenue generators are procedures and “interventions” – even though most of them have been shown to be ineffective.

New technology has made the situation worse instead of better. The interventions are larger, more expensive and much riskier. You, the patients, have become targets and opportunities.

The last five years of my practice became increasingly intolerable. I would see several patients a week who had surgery performed or recommended on spines that didn’t have a surgical problem. I hit a tipping point when I saw an athletic older gentleman who had his spine fused from his neck to his pelvis for muscular thoracic pain after lifting weights. He went from playing tennis and golf to being housebound, on high-dose opioids and had a psychotic break.

He was fused in a crooked position and could no longer see his feet.  He had to undergo a second 12-hour surgery just to stand him up straight again.

His case was a significant factor in my decision to retire from my practice as a complex spine surgeon in December of 2018 to pursue educating the public as to the nature and extent of the problem, as well as present viable solutions.

Fusions Have Low Success Rate

Spine surgery works wonderfully well when there is a distinct identifiable anatomical abnormality and pain is in the expected region of the body. However, surgery works poorly if the source of pain is unclear.

There is a widespread belief among patients and many physicians that when everything else has been tried and failed, then surgery is the next logical step. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Defining the correct anatomical problem to surgically treat is problematic. One of the most glaring examples of blindly proceeding with surgery in spite of the evidence is performing a fusion for low back pain (LBP).

It is well-documented that disc degeneration, bone spurs, arthritis, bulging discs, etc. are rarely the cause of LBP. Often, we really don’t know where the pain might be arising.

The success rate of fusions for LBP is less than 30%.  Most people expect a much better outcome and the resulting disappointment is problematic.

Another major problem is that when a surgical procedure is performed in a person with chronic pain in any part of the body, he or she may experience chronic pain at the new surgical site between 40 and 60% of the time. Five to ten percent of the time, the pain is permanent.

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Many patients have told me undergoing spine surgery was one of the worst decisions of their life: “If I just knew how bad this could be, I never would have done it.”

Consider what happens when you go to the dentist with a painful cavity that may require a root canal, crown or extraction. There is a defined problem, and the pain will usually disappear once the problem is solved.

But what if you had gum disease or jaw pain, and a tooth doesn’t appear to be the source? Would you let your dentist randomly work on different teeth to see if it might help?

Making an accurate diagnosis of the problem is always the first step in solving it. 

Understanding the Whole Picture

Chronic pain is a complex problem that requires time and a multi-pronged approach to treatment. Current neuroscience research has unlocked the puzzle of chronic pain and it’s a solvable problem using the correct paradigm. But in the current medical climate, surgeons are being asked (and pushed) to move too quickly, and not factor in all of the variables that affect pain and surgical outcomes.

One 2014 research paper reported that only 10% of orthopedic spine surgeons and neurosurgeons are addressing and treating the well-documented variables in patients that predict poor outcomes. For example, one common problem for patients is lack of sleep. A large four-year study out of Israel demonstrated that insomnia induces low back pain. If a patient is sleep-deprived for just one night, his or her pain tolerance drops dramatically.

There are two sets of variables to consider when deciding whether to undergo spine surgery.

1) Your anatomy:  Has your doctor used an MRI or diagnostic test to identify the anatomical problem? If there isn’t a clearly identifiable source of pain, then surgery isn’t an option, regardless of how much pain you are experiencing.

2) Your nervous system and body chemistry:  Are you calm? Or are you stressed and hyper-vigilant? If your nervous system is on “high alert” for any reason, the outcomes of surgery are predictably poor, especially if you can’t identify the anatomical problem.  

If you are stressed, there are simple, consistently effective measures that can calm your nervous system and help you become pain free, often without surgery.

We already have the knowledge and technology to offer superb care and much of the data is being ignored. Whatever you decide to do or what resources you might use, don’t jump into spine surgery until you understand the whole picture. It may be the biggest decision of your life. 

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Dr. David Hanscom is a spinal surgeon who has helped hundreds of back pain sufferers by teaching them how to calm their central nervous systems without the use of drugs or surgery.

In his book Back in ControlHanscom shares the latest developments in neuroscience research and his own personal history with pain.

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.

New Safety Concerns for Osteoarthritis Drug

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Disappointing results from a Phase 3 clinical study are raising new safety concerns about an experimental class of pain-relieving drugs once considered a promising alternative to opioids.

Pfizer and Eli Lilly say 6.3% of osteoarthritis patients taking a 5 mg dose of tanezumab experienced rapidly progressive osteoarthritis in their joints. There was significant improvement in their pain and physical function, but the patients’ overall assessment of their condition was no better than those treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Patients taking a lower 2.5 mg dose of tanezumab did not have any significant improvement in their pain, quality of life or overall condition. And 3.2% experienced rapidly progressive osteoarthritis.

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“We are analyzing these findings in the context of the recent Phase 3 results as we assess potential next steps for tanezumab,” Ken Verburg, Pfizer Global Product Development, said in a statement. “We plan to review the totality of data from our clinical development program for tanezumab with regulatory authorities.”

Tanezumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody that targets nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that increases as a result of injury, inflammation or chronic pain. Tanezumab binds to NGF and inhibits pain signals from reaching the brain.

Tanezumab was considered so promising a therapy that it was given fast track designation from the FDA in 2017, a process that speeds up the development of new therapies to treat serious conditions.

Ironically, it was the FDA that slowed the development of NGF inhibitors in 2010 because of concerns that tanezumab made osteoarthritis worse in some patients. Most clinical studies of tanezumab did not resume until 2015.

The reappearance of the same safety issue and the marginal pain relief provided by tanezumab could be the last straw for the drug, according to one analyst.

“It is hard for us to imagine how these results could have been much worse. Pfizer indicated that they ‘plan to review the totality of data’ with regulatory authorities, which suggests to us that the co-sponsors will try to find a way to resurrect the program for some subset or sub-population of patients, but recognizes that this result puts the drug’s entire future in doubt,” SVB Leerink research analyst Geoffrey Porges said in a note to clients.

A clinical study of fasinumab, another NGF inhibitor being developed by Teva and  Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, was stopped by the FDA in 2016 after a patient showed signs of severe joint disease. Regeneron and Teva are continuing to study fasinumab in patients with chronic low back pain.

Pfizer and Eli Lilly are also studying tanezumab as a treatment for low back pain, and reported promising results from a Phase 3 trial in February. Rapidly progressive osteoarthritis was also reported in a small number of patients involved in that study.