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Pain Contracts: Do They Threaten The Doctor-Patient Relationship?

Doctors today are wary about treating chronic pain. One of the main worries is precipitating fatal opioid overdoses. Indeed, according to the CDC, and reported by American Medical News, “fatal opioid overdoses tripled to nearly 14,000 from 1999 to 2006 … [and] emergency department visits involving opioids more than doubled to nearly 306,000 between 2004 and 2008.”

Requiring chronic pain patients to sign pain contracts is a way to mitigate this risk. But how does that affect the doctor-patient relationship?

Indeed, a contract is an adversarial tool. Essentially, it states that a patient must comply with a strict set of rules in order to receive medications, including where and how often they obtain controlled substances, and may involve random drug testing. Break the contract and the patient is often fired from the practice. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Painkiller Safety

Perhaps as many as one in every five American adults will get a prescription for a painkiller this year, and many more will buy over-the-counter medicines without a prescription. These drugs can do wonders — getting rid of pain can seem like a miracle — but sometimes there’s a high price to be paid.

Remember the heavily marketed COX-2 inhibitors? Rofecoxib, sold as Vioxx, and valdecoxib, sold as Bextra, were taken off the market in 2004 and 2005, respectively, after studies linked them to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, ibuprofen (sold as Advil and Motrin), and naproxen (sold as Aleve) seem like safe bets. But taken over long periods, they have potentially dangerous gastrointestinal side effects, including ulcers and bleeding. Kidney and liver damage are possible, too. More recently, some of the NSAIDs have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Low doses of aspirin (usually defined as 81 mg) is an exception and is often prescribed to lower the risk of heart and stroke.

Even acetaminophen, which is often viewed as the safest pain drug and a low-risk alternative to the NSAIDs because it doesn’t have their gastrointestinal side effects, comes with a caution about high doses possibly causing liver failure. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Prescription Use On The Rise, More Awareness Of Side Effects Needed

Eighty eight percent of Americans 60 years or older take at least one prescription drug and more than two-thirds of this age group take five or more, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics. Spending for prescription drugs totaled $234.1 billion in 2008 — more than double what was spent in 1999.

The National Center for Health Statistics excerpted elements of its National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to prepare the report:

Gu Q, Dillon CF, Burt VL. Prescription drug use continues to increase: U.S. prescription drug data for 2007-2008. NCHS data brief, no 42. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010.Other key findings include:

– Over the last 10 years, the percentage of Americans who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44 percent to 48 percent. The use of two or more drugs increased from 25 percent to 31 percent. The use of five or more drugs increased from 6 percent to 11 percent. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Why It’s Wrong To Call Drug Seekers A “Micropopulation”

I don’t know what’s going on with American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) lately, but it’s disheartening. Their abdication of responsibility and engagement during the healthcare reform debate was depressing. Then there was a rigged poll designed to elicit a predetermined result. Now I see a bizarre op-ed piece in USA Today entitled “Opposing view on drug addiction: Don’t make us ‘pain police’” and authored by ACEP President Angela Gardener. An excerpt:

The patient-physician relationship is sacrosanct, demanding candor and trust. In the emergency department, trust is built in nanoseconds because patients and doctors do not have prior relationships. Knowing that any pain prescription will be entered into a large, public database might prevent patients from being truthful, or in the worst case, from seeking needed care. … As an emergency physician, I can assure you that the drug abusers who use the emergency room simply to get a prescription drug fix represent a micropopulation of the 120 million patients who seek emergency care every year in the USA. … Put bluntly, if legislators have money to spend, they should spend it where it will do the most good for our patients, and that is not on drug databases.

I really don’t know what to say, other than to wonder whether Dr. Gardner and I practice in the same United States in which abuse of prescription drugs is growing exponentially and in which “drug-seeking” patients are a part of each and every shift worked in the ER, where deaths due to overdoses of prescription medications are on the rise, and where diversion of narcotics is a serious and growing problem. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

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