Are You Mad as Hell Yet?

By Fred Brown, Guest Columnist

I experienced in mid-life something that I wish on no one. Because of this event, I live with a disease called chronic pain.  I am considered a “pain patient” by the medical community, but I try not to see myself as such. I am a human being, living my life to the best of my ability.

I had several surgeries to fix a problem in my spine.  These procedures not only failed to fix the problem, they left me with severe and chronic intractable pain.

There is a way to relieve my pain and make me more functional, and it has been part of my life for over two decades: Opioid pain medication prescribed by a board-certified pain management physician.

Opioids give me quality of life and let me be a spouse, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

The problem I have is that there are people in state and federal agencies, along with legislators in our government, who think they know better than my trained doctor. These officials make claims without any science to back them up. They don’t want me to take opioids or say I should only use them at very low doses that do not work.

FRED BROWN

FRED BROWN

There are millions of legitimate chronic pain patients like me who need these drugs. They are essentially being told, “Sorry, we do not want your physician to treat you the way they know best. And if you don’t do what we think is best for you, we can do nasty things to you and your doctor.”

These officials can use state and federal powers to take away your physician’s license to practice medicine. And if that is not enough, they can even put them in jail.  The government is persecuting doctors for legitimately prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

There is strong evidence -- using our own government's information -- to prove physicians have not caused the crisis. The writing of opioid prescriptions has been coming down for several years. What has been increasing are patients turning to street drugs or, even worse. committing suicide. They are not able to obtain relief the right way, so they go to the streets!

There has been so much disinformation about opioid medication that our media has distributed to the public.   Over and over, we hear that physicians have overprescribed opioids and caused the “opioid crisis.”

Over 40 years ago, there was a motion picture made called “Network.”  In the movie, there is a fantastic scene where an anchorman named Howard Beale becomes so frustrated and angry during a show that he shouts over and over, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Then he encourages Americans across the country to open their windows and do the same. Millions do.

To my fellow patients, advocates, friends, doctors and other healthcare workers. It is time to write, call and communicate with your Senator and Congressmen.

Like Howard Beale, tell them you’re mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore.   

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Fred Brown lives with degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, stenosis and other spinal problems. He is a patient advocate and volunteer with The Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain (ATIP). 

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.

Empathy Must Be Included in Pain Management Education

By Dr. Lynn Webster, PNN Columnist

The National Institutes for Health (NIH) is seeking input on how to improve medical education in the fields of pain management and the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Although the NIH is primarily asking healthcare professionals and researchers to weigh in, comments from the general public are also welcome. The information will be used to update the NIH’s Centers for Excellence in Pain Education, which is developing pain management curriculum for medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy schools to improve how students are taught about pain and its treatment.

If you are a person in pain, or love someone who is, your input is what all healthcare providers should hear. You can see the Request for Information (RFI) by clicking here. The link includes an email address to use to contribute your thoughts.

This is an opportunity to tell the NIH what you would like to see included in pain education, or what needs to be taught regarding opioid misuse or abuse. People often want to be heard. This is the time to let the NIH know what you believe is important to teach all healthcare providers.

Potential educational topics could include:

  • What should be the primary goal of pain treatment

  • The role of empathy, rather than animus, in treating people with pain

  • The power of trust, rather than suspicion and disbelief, in the therapeutic relationship

  • Techniques to reduce the stigma of pain, disability and opioid use disorder

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Therapies of the Heart

My comments to the NIH will include some of my strongly-held beliefs, including:

Pain therapy must include compassion. A therapeutic relationship may not be considered mainstream medical treatment, but it is crucial to pain management. It includes acceptance, compassion, listening, respect, encouragement, trust, kindness, patience, and being fully present.

I call these the therapies of the heart. They are simple, yet vital, components of a broad-based approach to treating the whole person.

Too often, people in pain are abandoned by health care professionals, family members, and friends. They need to be supported by all the key people in their lives and treated by medical professionals who are adequately trained.

Education should convey that pain isn't just biological. It is psychological, social, and spiritual. A healthcare professional who treats pain must internalize this concept to provide the most humanistic treatment possible.

The fact that withdrawal does not mean addiction is a concept too few people in healthcare understand. Any education that discusses opioids must make clear the differences between addiction and withdrawal. Providers also must learn that a person who experiences withdrawal is not necessarily addicted.

I will recommend to the NIH that their program require all participants watch Travis Rieder’s TED Talk on opioid withdrawal:

I will also ask that pain management curriculum make it clear that babies cannot be born addicted. The fact that the media commonly uses the phrase "addicted babies" in place of "babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome" only reinforces the misunderstanding of what clinical withdrawal means.

Additionally, education should address misconceptions about people in pain, and how chronic pain affects families and other relationships. Educational content should include a discussion of the losses that accompany chronic pain -- to the person in pain and also to their family members.

Providers need to be trained to understand that pain is personal and individualized; therefore, treatment must be individualized, too. What works for one person may not work for another.

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Lynn R. Webster, MD, is a vice president of scientific affairs for PRA Health Sciences and consults with the pharmaceutical industry. He is author of the award-winning book, “The Painful Truth” and co-producer of the documentary, “It Hurts Until You Die.”

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.

Federal Task Force Releases ‘Roadmap’ to Treat Pain Crisis

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

A federal advisory panel has released its final report on recommended best practices for acute and chronic pain management, calling for a balanced approach to pain treatment that focuses on individualized patient care – not rigid guidelines that triggered a pain crisis for millions of Americans.

“There is a no one-size-fits-all approach when treating and managing patients with painful conditions,” said Vanila Singh, MD, Task Force chair and chief medical officer of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. “Individuals who live with pain are suffering and need compassionate, individualized and effective approaches to improving pain and clinical outcomes. This report is a roadmap that is desperately needed to treat our nation’s pain crisis.”

Unlike previous federal efforts that focused primarily on limiting access to opioid medication while expanding access to addiction treatment, the 116-page report by the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force took a more comprehensive approach to pain management that focused on the needs of patients, improving their quality of life, and establishing a “therapeutic alliance” between patient and clinician.   

The panel sought and received feedback from over 5,000 patients, advocates and healthcare providers on issues such as suicide, patient abandonment and the stigma associated with chronic pain. Several patient stories were incorporated into the final report.

Even longtime critics of federal pain care policies were impressed.

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“This report from the HHS Pain Management Task Force is exceptional, in my view. Rarely have I seen a report that is of such high quality, with such reasonable, common-sense recommendations,” said Bob Twillman, PhD, former Executive Director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management. “The willingness to recognize concerns expressed by people with pain and by healthcare providers is not something we have often seen, and it is refreshing to see those comments play an important role here.”

“I truly hope this is a huge step forward,” said Andrea Anderson, a pain sufferer and patient advocate. “I think there was much to be praised, such as the focus on individualized patient care, the need for multi-disciplinary treatment teams with care-coordination, a more robust focus on post-surgical pain management, an emphasis on moving complementary and integrative health approaches into the main stream of pain treatment, and the need for further education and research  on a number of important topics.”

No Repeal of CDC Guideline

The task force did not call for a repeal of the CDC’s controversial opioid prescribing guideline, but said the guideline should be clarified and updated with better evidence to supports its recommendations..

“The Task Force recognizes the utility of the 2016 CDC Guideline for many aspects of pain management and its value in mitigating adverse outcomes of opioid exposure. Unfortunately, misinterpretation, in addition to gaps in the guideline, has led to unintended adverse consequences. Our report documented widespread misinterpretation of the CDC Guideline — specifically, the recommendation regarding the 90 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) dose,” the report found.

“Educating stakeholders about the intent and optimal application of this guideline and re-emphasis of its core beneficial aspects are essential. Instances have been reported where the CDC Guideline was misapplied to the palliative care and cancer populations with pain and to providers who care for these patient populations.”

The task force called for a more “even-handed approach” to opioid prescriptions that allows doctors to use their own clinical judgement on how to treat patients.

“Various health insurance plans, retail pharmacies, and local and state governments are implementing the CDC Guideline as policy, limiting the number of days a patient can receive prescription opioids even when the seriousness of the injury or surgery may require opioids for adequate pain management for a longer period. A more even-handed approach would balance addressing opioid overuse with the need to protect the patient-provider relationship by preserving access to medically necessary drug regimens and reducing the potential for unintended consequences,” the task force said.

That kind of thinking is heresy to anti-opioid crusaders and politicians who consider the CDC guideline a cornerstone of the government’s war on drugs. Even before the task force report was finalized, 39 state and territory attorney generals wrote a letter of protest.   

“As a matter of public safety, there is simply no justification to move away from the CDC Guideline to encourage more liberal use of an ineffective treatment that causes nearly 50,000 deaths annually,” the letter warns. “It is incomprehensible that officials would consider moving away from key components of the CDC Guideline.”

Critics have also claimed that some task force members have a conflict-of-interest because of their financial ties to pharmaceutical companies. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) — who has received millions of dollars in campaign donations from healthcare companies and insurers — recently told Mother Jones that the task force was “being used as part of the industry’s broader effort to water down the CDC’s recommendations on opioid prescribing.”

The 29 members who served on the task force included representatives from the FDA, CDC, VA and Office of National Drug Control Policy; as well as academic and medical experts in pain management, addiction treatment, pharmacy, oncology, psychiatry and interventional medicine. There was only one patient advocate, Cindy Steinberg of the U.S. Pain Foundation.

Interestingly, Harold Tu, MD, the lone dentist on the panel, is the father-in-law of Andrew Kolodny, MD, the founder and Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), an anti-opioid activist group that played a key role in drafting the CDC guideline. Tu voted in favor of the task force’s final report.

The report’s recommendations are voluntary and not binding on the Department of Health and Human Services or anyone else. The task force was created in 2016 by the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to “determine whether there are gaps in or inconsistencies between best practices for pain management.”

Those gaps have been identified. Whether anyone will get to work and fill them is unclear.

“I think the task force provided a very good analysis of the problem with recommendations that if implemented should help millions of Americans with pain and reduce the problem with opioids,” says Lynn Webster, MD, past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and a PNN columnist.

“My concern is that there doesn't appear to be any teeth to the recommendations. I would like to have seen some specifics but that may have been too much to expect at this stage.”

Fibromyalgia Stole My Life, Kratom Gave It Back

By Mary Ann Dunkel, Guest Columnist

Fibromyalgia stole my life more than 28 years ago. I have severe chronic pain and fatigue that limits my activities of daily living. Unless you have experienced unrelenting severe pain 24 hours a day, you cannot know the horror of it.

I have been prescribed more pharmaceuticals than I can remember and suffered damaging side effects from them. I've participated in psychotherapy, aqua therapy, multiple pain management programs, acupuncture and hypnosis. None of these modalities brought me relief and for quite some time I was bedridden and dependent on family for care.

My doctors have prescribed me morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, tramadol and other medications to control the pain. None of them worked for very long and I could see these prescriptions were going to lead to addiction. Often, I weaned myself off them and suffered through terrible withdrawal because the small amount of relief they gave was not worth the risk of addiction or overdose death. Bottom line is these narcotics were not effective in treating my chronic pain.

There were times when I thought about taking my life because I just couldn't get a break from the pain and didn't think I could take it any longer.

Then a friend introduced me to kratom. She had been consuming it for more than 10 years without side effects or becoming addicted to it. I started my own journey consuming kratom.

Kratom is not a drug. It is a dietary supplement. It does not heal any disease, but it has certainly improved my quality of life. I am having pain free days and my energy level is greatly improved. Kratom has restored my ability to have a normal life and I can enjoy all sorts of activities that make my life rich and full.

Kratom does not make me high, nor do I experience side effects. I am now clear minded without the sedation caused by narcotics. And I am devastated that the FDA is working to ban the only thing that has helped me in the past 28 years.

MARY ANN DUNKEL

MARY ANN DUNKEL

I am sick to death of reporters parroting the lies from the FDA and CDC. I implore you. The studies they have done are full of inaccuracies and half-truths. Independent studies of the autopsies in the so called kratom deaths have shown the victims had multiple medications in their systems. They also included a death caused by gunshot.

Eight leading scientists have studied kratom and found it to be safe. It has been used for hundreds of years without problem. It is not an opioid; it is related to the coffee plant. It does attach to the same receptors in the brain as opioids, but so do many other substances such as chocolate and milk.

I would suggest to you that the FDA wants it banned because it is cutting into Big Pharma's financial bottom line. People are finding the help they need without costly and deadly pharmaceuticals. I fear that if kratom is banned this country will see an epidemic of self-inflicted deaths by people who have no hope. Kratom would become a black market substance due to overreach by the government to protect the monies they get from pharmaceutical lobbies.

Please investigate these facts and do the right thing. Do a story on the positives of kratom.

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Do you have a story you want to share on PNN? Send it 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.

39 Attorneys General Practicing Medicine Without a License

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Over 5,000 healthcare providers, patients, caretakers and advocacy organizations have left comments in the Federal Register on a draft report by a federal advisory panel known as the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force. The comment period ended April 1.

Most of the comments – which you can see by clicking here – are supportive of the report, which recommends that pain management be balanced, multimodal and focused on individualized patient care. Opioid pain medication should be prescribed cautiously, if prescribed at all, according to the task force.

Those may sound like reasonable and prudent goals, but one aspect of the draft report has stirred controversy and it’s a familiar one: the CDC’s 2016 opioid prescribing guideline.

While commending its “useful general guidance,” the report found that that guideline has had many unintended consequences, including forced opioid tapering, patient abandonment and suicide. The task force said the guideline was never meant to be mandatory or to be used as a model by states, insurers and pharmacies, and better evidence was needed to support its recommendations.

The task force stopped short of recommending a wholesale revision of the guideline, but suggested a “more even-handed approach” to pain care was needed.  

“In essence, clinicians should be able to use their clinical judgement to determine opioid duration for their patients,” the report concludes.

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Those were fighting words to some anti-opioid crusaders and politicians who consider the CDC guideline a cornerstone of the government’s war on drugs.

“As a matter of public safety, there is simply no justification to move away from the CDC Guideline to encourage more liberal use of an ineffective treatment that causes nearly 50,000 deaths annually,” warns a letter signed by 39 state and territory attorney generals.  “It is incomprehensible that officials would consider moving away from key components of the CDC Guideline.”

‘They Have Overreached’

The AG’s letter shows a fundamental and perhaps willful ignorance of what the guideline is – a voluntary set of recommendations intended only for primary care physicians. The letter also demonstrates how politicians have grown accustomed to inserting themselves into pain management decisions normally left between patients and their doctors. In essence, the AG’s are saying that doctors should not be allowed to use their own clinical judgement and should rely instead on treatment guidelines.  

“The Draft Report proposes to rely solely on the judgment of providers regarding the dose and duration of opioid treatment. With annual overdose deaths in the tens of thousands, evidence-based recommendations, such as documentation and consultation, are necessary,” the AG letter states. “Similarly, the Draft Report states that duration of opioid treatment for acute pain, including trauma and surgery, is best determined by providers without the need for guidelines to inform appropriate decision-making.”

Critics say the AG’s are essentially practicing medicine without a license.

“The foxes watching the hen house want more hens to watch, more justification for their existence,” says Mark Ibsen, MD, a Montana doctor all too familiar with government intrusion into pain care. Ibsen’s medical license was suspended in 2016 over allegations that he overprescribed opioids, a decision later reversed by a judge.

“They have overreached. I hope someone else notices, and takes law enforcement out of the practice of medicine, where they’ve been screwing up medical care since 1914. Abolish the DEA. Let law enforcement catch criminals, not make them up out of thin air,” Ibsen said.

This isn’t the first time the National Association of Attorneys General has tried to meddle in pain care. In 2017, the organization sent a letter to health insurers asking them to take steps to reduce the prescribing of opioid medication.

Reducing the frequency with which opioids are prescribed will not leave patients without effective pain management options.
— National Assn. of Attorneys General

“Reducing the frequency with which opioids are prescribed will not leave patients without effective pain management options,” the 2017 letter states. “When patients seek treatment for any of the myriad conditions that cause chronic pain, doctors should be encouraged to explore and prescribe effective non-opioid alternatives, ranging from non-opioid medications (such as NSAIDs) to physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care.”

In their latest letter, it’s no longer a matter of “should.” The AG’s say doctors “must be encouraged” to reduce opioid prescriptions and to recognize that opioids have “well established risks.”  

“The Draft Report should be revised to clearly state that there is no completely safe opioid dose, and that higher doses are particularly – and predictably – risky,” the AG’s wrote.

But most opioid medications are not particularly risky, as PNN reported in a recent study of over half a million Medicare patients who were prescribed the drugs. Over 90 percent had a negligible risk of an overdose. Even among “high risk” patients on high opioid doses, the risk of an overdose is less than two percent.

‘Too Much Money On the Line’

Critics also point out the AG’s have a political and financial interest in demonizing opioid medication. Most have signed on as plaintiffs in over 1,600 class action lawsuits filed by states, cities and counties seeking billions of dollars in damages from opioid manufacturers and distributors. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter – one of the AG’s who signed the letter criticizing the task force report --  recently reached an out-of-court settlement with Purdue Pharma for $270 million.  

“There is just too much potential money on the line. This is not an argument about truth, or evidence, or anything except money," says Andrea Anderson, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain (ATIP).  

“Since the Purdue/Oklahoma settlement of $270 million, all the AG’s of every state involved in this opioid litigation will focus solely on their potential financial gains until they get their piece of settlement pie. This will come at the cost of needed revisions to the flawed CDC Guidelines and a return to clinical common sense. People can remember these AG’s when they vote.” 

According to OpenSecrets.org, the law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy donated over $1 million to congressional candidates during the 2018 election cycle. Simmons Hanly Conroy represents dozens of states and local governments that are suing drug makers over their marketing of opioids, and would pocket one-third of the proceeds from any settlements, according to reports.

A recent PNN survey found the CDC guideline was having a harmful effect on both patients and healthcare providers. Over 85 percent of patients say the guideline has made their pain and quality of life worse. Nearly half have considered suicide. Over two-thirds of practitioners are worried about being sanctioned or prosecuted for prescribing opioids. Rather than risk going to prison, many have stopped treating pain, closed their practice or retired.  

Pain Management Association Shutting Down

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

An association of pain management providers that was a leading advocate for patient access to pain care is closing its doors. The board of directors of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management (AIPM) voted unanimously this week to cease operations, largely due to financial problems.  

“This is an incredibly difficult and sad decision,” said Bob Twillman, PhD, AIPM’s Executive Director. “Our message has never been more relevant than now, amid the nation’s opioid crisis, yet we have found it increasingly difficult to maintain the resources needed to sustain our efforts.”

For over three decades, AIPM promoted an “integrative model” of pain care that utilizes a variety of different treatments, including both drug and non-drug therapies.

Although that model has become a standard of pain care, AIPM’s membership has steadily declined due to demographic and other industry trends. With doctors under increasing scrutiny for opioid prescribing, pain management is not an attractive specialty for recent medical school graduates.

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“Joining associations like ours just is not a high priority for younger health care providers, and decreased interest in attending in-person educational events has contributed to significantly decreased conference revenues for AIPM,” said W. Clay Jackson, MD, President of the Board of Directors.

The demonization of opioid medication by policymakers and politicians also played a major role, causing many drug makers to limit or drop their support for medical associations and patient advocacy groups.

“My understanding is that the decreased industry support is not limited to the pain space, but it is especially acute here because for many years it was the opioid manufacturers who were the greatest source of funding,” Twillman wrote in an email to PNN. “As recently as five years ago, it would not be unusual for a company to drop nearly $100,000 at a single conference, between big exhibit hall booths, grants for continuing education programs, sponsored meal programs, and items such as bags, lanyards, key cards, etc.

“But when the lawsuits against opioid manufacturers started to ramp up, the logical response from the manufacturers was to withdraw support. After all, if they are being accused of using groups like ours as ‘front organizations,’ then it is completely logical for them to stop any behavior that might be perceived that way.”

A 2018 report by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) even accused the AIPM and other industry supported groups of playing “a significant role” in starting the opioid epidemic.

“These financial relationships were insidious, lacked transparency, and are one of the many factors that have resulted in arguably the most deadly drug epidemic in American history,” McCaskill's report alleged.

"Sen. McCaskill and the others haven’t spent the necessary time talking to us to understand how we do things and what we have to offer," Twillman said at the time. "It appears that they’ve simply looked at how much money we got from a set of pharma companies, constructed a narrative about what that means, and published it."

Over a five-year period, McCaskill’s report found that AIPM received over $1.25 million in support from opioid makers. But the report failed to mention that AIPM also accepted funding from chiropractors, yoga therapists, acupuncturists and massage therapists.

We’re all very sad at this turn of events, but we’re also very proud of what we accomplished.
— Dr. Bob Twillman

Among other things, those donations helped AIPM host the 2017 Integrative Pain Care Policy Congress, a meeting that united dozens of providers, insurers, patients, researchers and policymakers.

The Congress adopted a consensus definition of integrative pain management that is “person-centered and focuses on maximizing function and wellness.”

Twillman says AIPM — formerly known as the American Academy of Pain Management — had less of a financial cushion than other pain organizations and was not able to adjust to changing times or the backlash against pain management.

“I fear for the future of those organizations, because I'm not sure this set of problems is going to get better, and I don't see the other organizations adapting as quickly as perhaps they should,” said Twillman, who has long stood up for patient rights and been a reliable source of common sense for PNN.

“I very much want to remain in a pain policy position if possible, because that is my real passion,” he said. “We're all very sad at this turn of events, but we're also very proud of what we accomplished, and can only hope that others will pick up the baton and continue the race while we look for ways to keep pursuing our passion.”

Fed Panel Releases Draft Report on Pain Management

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

A federal advisory panel known as the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force has released a draft report listing its recommendations for improving pain care in the United States. The content is both revealing and promising, because its recognizes the complex nature of chronic pain and the difficulty in treating it effectively.

The task force was formed as a result of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016. Its mission is to identify gaps and inconsistencies in acute and chronic pain management and to propose possible solutions.

The 29 members who serve on the task force include representatives from the FDA, CDC, VA and Office of National Drug Control Policy; as well as academic and medical experts in pain management, addiction treatment, pharmacy, oncology, psychiatry and interventional medicine.

Interestingly, Harold Tu, MD, the lone dentist on the panel, is the father-in-law of Andrew Kolodny, MD, the founder and Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP). Only one pain patient and advocate was appointed to the task force, Cindy Steinberg of the U.S. Pain Foundation.

PAIN MANAGEMENT INTER-AGENCY TASK FORCE

PAIN MANAGEMENT INTER-AGENCY TASK FORCE

The key findings of the task force are that pain management should be balanced, individualized, multidisciplinary and multi-modal. Pharmacological pain management requires careful screening and monitoring of patients to minimize risks, while non-pharmacological modalities, in particular physical therapy, also have a significant role to play. The needs of special populations such as children, women, older adults, and military personnel and veterans must also be recognized, according to the draft report.

The task force introduces a new term: “chronic relapsing pain conditions.” These conditions include a lengthy list of degenerative, inflammatory and neurologic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, trigeminal neuralgia, lupus, Parkinson’s disease, postherpetic neuralgia, CRPS, porphyria, lupus, lumbar radicular pain, migraines and cluster headaches.

In other words, the draft report recognizes that pain is heterogeneous and the umbrella term of “chronic pain” is problematic. The report notes: “There are multiple potential causes of worsening pain that are often not recognized or considered. Non-tolerance-related factors include iatrogenic (medical related) causes such as surgery, flares of the underlying disease or injury, and increased ergonomic demands or emotional distress.”

The draft report gives considerable attention to the risks associated with high opioid doses and the use of benzodiazepines, but doesn’t entirely dismiss their use:

“Dose-dependent opioid overdose risk among patients increased gradually and did not show evidence of a distinct risk threshold. Much of the risk at higher doses appears to be associated with co-prescribed benzodiazepines.”

“Although the risk of overdose by benzodiazepine co-prescription with opioids is well established, this combination may still have clinical value in patients who have chronic pain and comorbid anxiety, which commonly accompanies pain, and in patients who have chronic pain and spasticity.”

The draft report also warns that medication shortages are worsening the quality of pain care: "Recurrent shortages in opioid and nonopioid medications have created barriers to the proper continuity of treatment in acute and chronic pain patients. This creates the unintended consequence of poor patient care.”

Importantly, the report devotes an entire section to the impact of the 2016 CDC opioid prescribing guideline. While recognizing the “useful general guidance” in it, the report notes that “an unintended consequence of the guideline is the forced tapering or patient abandonment that many patients with chronic pain on stable long-term doses of opioids have experienced."

The report concludes that the “CDC guideline was not intended to be model legislation for state legislators to enact,” but stops short of recommending that the guideline be revised. Instead, the task force recommends “educating stakeholders” about the intent of the guideline and its “core beneficial aspects.”

The depth of analysis in the draft report is clear from the 446 footnoted references, which includes the familiar names of Beth Darnall, PhD, Roger Chou, MD, and Lynn Webster, MD. Pain News Network is even cited as one reference.

The task force held two public hearings in May and September 2018. The task force will be accepting comments on its draft report by mail, email and online. After a 90-day public comment period, the report will be finalized and submitted to Congress.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

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.