Ya Got Trouble !

11 drugs lik cocaine ladies

At the intersection of emotionally charged trains of thought, lies the potential for hyperbole, hysteria, and high drama. Nowhere is this more evident than in our nation’s debate over the utility of prescription pain drugs. Both sides offer sobering statistics. We cringe hearing that more people die from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle accidents. Then in the next breath we’re saddened by the news now one hundred million Americans suffer from chronic pain. This all may be true, yet still I’m reminded of what Mark Twain wrote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Unfortunately, efforts at finding truth can sometimes become sidetracked by blowhards with hidden agendas.

2 stay here  second one

Twain was a fan of satire, so in that spirit I would like to offer my concept of how The Music Man’s dashing huckster “Professor” Harold Hill might have taken on the pain debate. In the movie, this self-proclaimed music teacher/instrument salesman sounded the alarm over “the presence of a pool hall.” Here is what he might have said, had it been a pain clinic instead. Note, if you’ve never seen the musical, I recommend you watch the video clip first.

3 friend either you are

Friend, either you’re closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge, or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a pain clinic in your community.

 Well… Ya got trouble, my friends, right here, 
I say, trouble right here in your city.

 Why sure I’m a pain physician, certainly mighty proud to say,  
I’m always mighty proud to say it.

I consider that the hours I spend, needle in my hand, are golden.
Helps you cultivate horse sense, and a cool head, and a keen eye.

 3 g a cool head
Did ya ever try to treat a herniated disk with an epidural steroid shot?

 
But just as I say it takes judgment, brains and maturity 
to place a needle in the spine,
I say that any boob can pull a pad from his pocket.

And I call that sloth, 
the first big step on the road to the depths of deg-ra-da–

I say first, medicinal mar-i-ju-ana, then pills from a bottle.

4 and the next thing you kow 
And the next thing ya know 
your pills are selling for money on a back street route.

And listed on some big out of town KASPER*
showing how they’ve been doctor shoppin’.

Not a wholesome caring place, no! 
But a place where they pay cash right on the spot!

 Like to see some screwed up druggie boy sittin’ in your office?
Make your blood boil? 
Well, I should say. Now friends, let me tell you what I mean.

You got nine – new – pain – regs – that – were passed by the board.**

Regulations that mark the difference between a specialist and a bum, 
with a capital “B” 
and that rhymes with “P” 
and that stands for PAIN!

And all day long that pain clinic bunch will be loitering around, 
I say those addicts will be loitering,
loitering around your up town, middle town, down town too!

 5 here him tell about
Get the pills in their pockets, 
never mind setting functional goals
or the records reviewed
or agreements signed.

 
Never mind taking too many 
so your patients are caught 
with the bottle empty
on a Saturday night,
and that’s trouble.

 
Yes you got lots and lots of trouble.
I’m thinkin’ of the pain pill partiers
old ones, young ones, 
caring not a bit about breaking all the rules.

6 and that stands for pool pointing with crowd 
Ya got trouble, folks! Right here in your city.
Trouble, with a capital “T”
and that rhymes with “P”
and that stands for PAIN!

 Now, I know all you docs have the right kinda patients. 

I’m gonna be perfectly frank.
Would ya like to know what kind of conversation goes on 
while they’re loafing around your halls?

 
They’ll be tryin’ out Oxy, tryin’ out morphine
tryin’ out fentanyl and Zohydro.

And braggin’ all about 
how they’re gonna cover up a bad drug screen with with Clorox.

 8 zyour son and your daughter
One fine night, they leave the clinic, 
headin’ for a chance at the pharmacy.
Desperate men, enabling women! 
Narcotic shameless craving
that’ll make your son and your daughter 
defy every decent societal instinct.

 
 ADDICTION !

 
Friends, the stoner brain is the devil’s playground! Trouble!

 
Oh we got trouble. Right here in your city!
with a capital “T” 
that rhymes with “P” 
and that stands for PAIN!

 
We’ve surely got trouble! Right here in your city.
Gotta figure out a way to treat and not just go insane.

 7 caring not a bit about breakin all the rules

Doctors of this city, heed that warning before it’s too late! 
Watch for the telltale signs of addiction!

 The minute after your patient walks into your office,
does he claim to be paralyzed below the knee?

 10 below the knee
Is there a needle track mark on his index finger? 

 
A dime bag hidden in his butt pack?

Is he starting to visit web sites
like “How to Pass a Whiz test” dot com?

 
Are certain drugs showing up on urine drug screens
Drugs… like cocaine? And… heroin?

 14 the devils tool
Well, if so my friends, ya got trouble, right here in your city!
with a capital “T”
and that rhymes with “C” 
and that ain’t cool.

 
We’ve surely got trouble! Right here in your city! 
Remember that pain clinic doc is a willing fool!

 
Oh, we’ve got trouble! 
We’re in terrible, terrible trouble!
Those pills for the fifteen hundred cash is the devil’s tool.

 
Oh yes we got trouble, trouble, trouble! 
Oh yes we got trouble here, we got big big trouble!

 
With a “T”
Gotta rhyme it with “P”
And that stands for PAIN!

13 is a willing fool

 

*KASPER is the Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system

**The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure

 

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Spoiler alert… Professor Harold Hill had nothing against the pool hall. He wasn’t even a music professor. He was a con artist with a hidden agenda. He wanted to make a big score selling band instruments then bolt out of town. In the end though, Harold Hill had a change of heart and found true love.

If we can cool down the hyperbole, hysteria and high drama; if we can look beyond the soaring rhetoric and eye-popping statistics; if we can engage in honest and respectful communication; perhaps we can find meaningful solutions to our nation’s pain medication crisis.

15 last one with statue

Remember my friends,
listen to me,
because I pass this way but once!

It’s only words…

words matter

 

Words matter. So when The Courier-Journal published Laura Ungar’s timely article on “addicted” babies, I seized the opportunity to clarify the terms: physical dependence and addiction. They are not interchangeable and the difference is important…

 

Letter to the editor, published in The Courier-Journal, March 19, 2014:

Every hour a baby is born in this country to a mother who is abusing drugs. Thank you, Laura Ungar, for shedding light on the problem in Sunday’s Courier-Journal. However, the word “addicted” in the title is misleading. Addiction is a chronic disorder involving the reward circuits of the brain, leading to: craving, emotional dysfunction, and continued use despite harm.

A fetus exposed to the mother’s drugs may be born “physically dependent,” which, while horrible, is temporary. Anyone can expect to become physically dependent on a drug they take for a long time.

And withdrawal can be severe, but when it is over it is over. In contrast, the disease of addiction is a chronic condition that, without treatment, is progressive and can result in lifelong disability or death.

Almost all addicts have been physically dependent on drugs, but vastly fewer people who find themselves “physically dependent” on drugs (i.e. pain patients) are addicts. None of the babies born physically dependent can be considered “addicted.”

*

James Patrick Murphy, MD

*

*

My letter was in response to this article:

Kentucky addicted babies increasing despite pain-pill crackdown

by Laura Ungar, lungar@courier-journal.com 9:02 p.m. EDT March 14, 2014

IS THERE METHOD TO THIS MARCH MADNESS?

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To prescribe or not to prescribe Zohydro ER…

In March 2014, Zohydro ER (hydrocodone extended-release) was introduced to the market. Never in my medical lifetime do I recall a medication stirring such angst. Worries of mass overdoses, backdoor FDA conspiracies, and blatant disregard for the public wellbeing abound. Is there method to this March madness?

620px-hydrocodone-svg

Some background…

Zohydro ER is a pain pill that, when taken by mouth, is released slowly over twelve hours. The active ingredient, hydrocodone, is an opioid (i.e. narcotic) that’s been around for decades in a short-acting pill form (e.g. Lortab, Vicodin, Norco) and has historically been combined with APAP (a.k.a. acetaminophen, Tylenol).  The FDA considers hydrocodone-APAP combination pills to be relatively less addictive and designates them as a schedule-three drug. Physicians can prescribe schedule-three drugs over the phone, with up to six refills. By contrast, schedule-two drugs (e.g. morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone), even when combined with APAP, are considered more addictive, can’t be called in, and can’t be refilled without a new hard-copy prescription.

Because it is effective for pain, relatively well tolerated, and convenient to prescribe, hydrocodone-APAP pills have become the most commonly prescribed opioid in the United States.  It’s therefore not surprising that, since there’s so much in circulation, hydrocodone-APAP pills are frequently the most available opioid for abusers to abuse.  Add to this the legitimate worry about acetaminophen (APAP) overuse causing liver failure, and you can understand our leaders’ concerns surrounding this pain medication.

Enter Zohydro ER, the first extended-release hydrocodone pill without APAP. It’s easy on the liver and lasts twelve hours; so people with around-the-clock pain may need fewer pills per day. Additionally, it’s a schedule-two drug. In summary, Zohydro ER is a long-lasting version of a widely used and effective opioid, which until now had only been available in combination with acetaminophen.  So why the controversy?

Aye, here’s the rub…

Zohydro ER does not have any of the new and popular tamper-resistant technologies; e.g. a matrix that won’t dissolve easily, or a coating that is difficult to crush.  Instead, the makers took advantage of a delivery system (SODAS) already used successfully in a number other of extended-release drugs such as: Ritalin LA, Focalin XR, Luvox CR, and Avinza.

OxyContin and Opana ER are two examples of opioids that manufacturers took off the market briefly for reformulation as tamper-resistant.  However, while the changes have made them more difficult to snort or inject, many addicts still find ways to abuse these drugs or have just moved on to heroin. Tamper-resistant does not mean tamper-proof.

By the way, the generic form of Opana ER (oxymorphone extended-release) was not reformulated and is still available without tamper-resistant technology. Also, consider that Avinza (morphine extended-release), which employs the same sustained-release system (SODAS) as Zohydro ER, has neither been recalled nor been required to undergo reformulation.  In reality, probably 90% of the opioids in circulation do not have tamper-resistant formulations.

That’s why I have difficulty understanding the uproar over Zohydro ER. As a pain specialist, I welcome another effective treatment to offer chronic pain sufferers. Sure, I’d be happier if it had a hard coating or some other “deterrent” to abuse. But in reality, Zohydro ER is, for all practical purposes, neither safer nor more dangerous than many of the drugs I already prescribe with success. So far, tamper-resistant innovations have not been proven to be effective in the big scheme of things. All opioids, regardless of the formulation, must be prescribed with caution and careful monitoring.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, there are four main factors that contribute to a drug being addictive:

  1. How much will it cost me?  All things considered equal, people will choose a drug that is cheaper.
  2. How fast does it get to my brain? Hydrocodone is water-soluble and actually diffuses into the brain slower than many other opioids.
  3. What kind of a buzz will I get? Opioids stimulate the brain’s “reward circuit.” There is no proof that hydrocodone is any worse in this regard than other opioids.
  4. How much of it can I get my hands on? People will abuse what is available to them. Since hydrocodone is the most prescribed opioid, expect it to be one of the most abused. It follows that if Zohydro ER floods the market it will be abused.

Therefore, my recommendations to physicians are:

  1. Prescribe Zohydro ER in the lowest dose possible, for the shortest duration of time, and only if the benefits outweigh the risks.
  2. Monitor regularly for effectiveness, side effects, and patient compliance.
  3. Educate yourself and your patient.
  4. Follow guidelines and regulations faithfully.

By the way, that’s my advice to physicians regardless of which opioid they prescribe.

Zohydro ER may not be tamper-resistant, but tamper-resistant drugs are not super heroes. Do not expect them to save us from the real villain.

The real villain is not the FDA, not the drug company, not the drug, and not the patient.

The villain is the disease of addiction.

Focus on the disease. Prevent the disease. Treat the disease.

This Zohydro hullabaloo is a prime opportunity to shine light on the problems surrounding prescription drug abuse and addiction. Let’s take advantage of it.

And stop the madness.

*

me and c arm

James Patrick Murphy, MD, MMM

Board-certified in Pain Management, Addiction Medicine & Anesthesiology