Conference Coverage

How to make the move away from opioids for chronic noncancer pain



Standard care of chronic noncancer pain should start moving away from chronic opioid treatment, which can put patients in greater danger of developing a substance use disorder, according to evidence presented at a meeting held by the American Pain Society and Global Academy for Medical Education.

As the effects of the U.S. opioid epidemic continue to gain public attention – recently spurring a declaration of a state of emergencyphysicians are looking for new methods to treat chronic pain responsibly without adding to the current number of opioid-related deaths.

Use of opioid therapy for pain conditions such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraine – once a common treatment approach – has been shown to be a dangerous breeding ground for opioid substance use disorders, and physicians would do well to re-evaluate their treatment methods, according to Edwin Salsitz, MD, assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, New York.

“Each prescriber is going to have to review this, digest it, reflect on it, and decide what they are going to do,” said Dr. Salsitz in an interview. “Base it on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guideline as a good starting point, and then individualize it for yourself and your patients.”

One of the major steps toward lowering the rate of opioid addiction through prescription is avoiding opioids as a treatment for acute pain.

“The first recommendation [of the CDC guideline] is nonpharmaceutical therapy, including physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, and cognitive-behavioral therapy – and there’s a whole lot of evidence for these types of therapy,” said Dr. Salsitz. “The second option is that if you’re going to use medications, use those that aren’t opioids, like Tylenol, Motrin, and antidepressants.”

If opioids are necessary, said Dr. Salsitz, immediate-release opioids in limited prescriptions are a good way to lower the risk of addiction.

“The extended-release opioids have many more milligrams than the immediate-release opioids,” according to Dr. Salsitz. “For example, in New York state, we have a law now that says for acute pain, you cannot prescribe for more than a 7-day amount.”

That 7-day limit helps keep excess opioids out of households, he noted, making it harder for patients to share their medication with friends and family, which has proven to be the most common source for opioids during the onset of substance use disorders. In the first 12 months of use, friends and family members accounted for 55% of reported sources of opioids, according to the U.S. 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Providers may also want to consider screening pain patients for psychological disorders, Dr. Salsitz said, as many psychological conditions are associated with a high risk of developing a substance use disorder. Patients with major depression, dysthymia, or panic disorder were 3.43, 6.51, and 5.37 times more likely, respectively, than those without to initiate a prescription for and regularly use opioids, according to a study cited by Dr. Salsitz (Arch Intern Med. 2006 Oct 23;166[19]:2087-93).

One of the largest barriers preventing providers from implementing these methods, however, is a lack of resources, particularly in rural areas with increasing rates of opioid substance use disorders and limited provider options.

While these limitations do pose a problem, physicians should not feel they can’t provide proper care, according to Dr. Salsitz. “I think that each individual provider, wherever they are located, can do a reasonable job.”

Global Academy and this news organization are owned by the same company.

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