Alternatives to Opioid Pain Medications for Injured Workers

Workplace injuries affect approximately 4.1 million Americans annually (1) .  More than half of these injured individuals will have to miss work and receive long-term medical care.  Worker’s compensation plans provide partial wages during the time of injury and recovery period in addition to covering the cost of medical care.  The recent trend among physicians treating work related injuries has been the practice of prescribing high and sometimes dangerous doses of opioid pain medications for extended periods of time.  Data from 2005-2008 in 17 states showed an average number of 1,599 cases requiring narcotics for non-surgical cases, with more than seven work days missed due to injury(2).  Additionally, in an average of 6% of these cases, the narcotics were prescribed for long-term periods of time.  These drugs may include but are not limited to hydrocodone, fentanyl, methadone, and oxycodone.  Approximately 50-90% of injured workers will receive narcotics for chronic pain conditions (3).  Opioid pain medications can have deadly side effects and the increased availability and dosages of these medications can be detrimental to an injured worker and prolong the time it takes to return to work.

Opioid pain medications are the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States(4).  They work to decrease the perception of pain and increase pain threshold.  While these drugs are helpful to decrease overall pain of various injuries and conditions, they are highly addictive and only address a portion of the pain process.  Common side effects may be mild such as constipation and fatigue, however, they have also been linked to more severe side effects including sleep apnea, decreased hormone production, and increased falls and broken bones among the elderly population(4).  Additionally patients taking opioid pain medications for long periods of time can become addicted and experience serious symptoms of withdrawal which include nausea, shaking, chills, and sweating when finishing a course of these medications (5).  Lately there has also been in an increase in drug overdose leading to death.  In a study that observed 10,000 patients who were prescribed opioids for 90 days, 51% experienced at least one overdose, and six individuals died as a result of overdose 6.  In 2008 the number of deaths resulting from overdose reached nearly 15,000 individuals(1).

Increased availability and access to opioid pain medications is one of the main problems leading to addiction and overdose among injured workers.  Some physicians are prescribing these medications to treat acute and long-term pain disorders such as arthritis and musculoskeletal pain.  Oftentimes high doses are prescribed and the dosage continues to increase over time as tolerance to the effects of the medications increases.  Instead of treating the underlying physiological conditions causing the painful condition, opioid pain medications are prescribed to help manage and mask the pain associated with a work related injury. They are prescribed for many reasons, however, a few of the most common are pressure from patients to prescribe a strong medication that will lead to decreased pain, as well as pressure from insurance companies to prescribe the most cost-effective generic pain medications. Patients may experience temporary pain relief while on these medications, however chronic pain may persist long after the injury has healed.

Prescribing high dose opioid pain medications for work related injuries often leads to other injuries and physiologic impairments.  In many cases, patients remain out of work for much longer than individuals who are not prescribed opioids, as they often develop new health conditions and require more medications.  In the study conducted by the Danish Health Interview Survey in 2000 observing 10,434 individuals, patients who were not prescribed opioid pain medications to treat their injuries recovered four times more often than individuals prescribed opioid pain medications(7).  Additionally, in this study patients taking opioid pain medications were shown to have a lower quality of life and higher death risk than those patients managing pain without opioids.

Some patients who are prescribed opioid pain medications, especially long-term, may develop other serious conditions such as obesity, mood disorders, and depression.  An injured worker who is taking medication for a pain condition may not be able to exercise regularly and weight gain is fairly common.  Opioid pain medications can also have an effect on overall mood and quality of life.  If an individual takes these medications long-term it can be very hard to stop taking them.  The patient can experience large amounts of anxiety and depression when decreasing the dosage or attempting to discontinue the medication all together.  Research has found that of the 1.9 million workers claims that were filed between 2007-2008, those who previously had or developed a co-morbidity as a result of injury such as depression, obesity, or hypertension, experienced more costly treatments and often longer treatment plans all together(8).

Work related injuries will continue to be an issue for insurers and employers.  The overprescribing of opioid pain medications in this country must be addressed by physicians, insurance companies, and drug manufacturers.   The conversion of acute pain to chronic pain associated with a work related injury can be managed in a more efficient way that will allow an injured worker to return to work as soon as they are healed without the burden of addiction or other opioid pain medication related side effects.  Theramine can be used as a complimentary or standalone therapy among this vulnerable population and can provide treating physicians with the ability to prescribe the lowest effective dose of an opioid pain medication while addressing the underlying pathology of the pain process.

Theramine is a prescription only medication regulated by the FDA as a medical food. Medical foods are prescription only medications which address the underlying pathology of pain associated with the work related injury or illness.  Theramine is clinically proven to correct amino acid deficiencies associated with chronic pain syndromes, and improve the overall perception of pain(9).  Theramine is designed to manage the increased nutritional requirements associated with acute or chronic pain conditions.  Theramine is a proprietary amino acid formulation that, by providing neurotransmitter precursors, helps stimulate production of neurotransmitters that are often deficient in pain conditions.  The ingredients in Theramine are Generally Recognized as Safe by the FDA, and are specially formulated utilizing a proprietary Targeted Cellular Technology to facilitate the uptake and metabolizing of milligram quantities of amino acids and other nutrients.  There have been no reported adverse side effects associated with the clinical application of over 50 million individual doses of Theramine. The most common side effects associated with amino acid therapies are headache, dry mouth, and upset stomach and are often short term, and can be decreased with increased fluid intake.  Theramine can be administered in conjunction with the lowest effective doses of an opiate or NSAID pain medication without loss of efficacy(10).  Treating work related injuries with Theramine may prove to be one possible medication solution to control pain and help decrease the quantity and dosages of opioid pain medications administered in the United States.

1)      http://www.workers-comp-news.com/injury_stats.php

2)      http://www.wcrinet.org/studies/public/books/WCRI_2012_Annual_Report.pdf

3)      http://ehstoday.com/health/workers-compensation/injured-workers-opiate-addiction-0209/

4)      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/09/health/opioid-painkiller-prescriptions-pose-danger-without-oversight.html?pagewanted=all

5)      http://www.opiates.com/opiate-withdrawal.html

6)      http://www.crcotp.com/crcotp_featured/even-when-prescribed-opioids-can-cause-addiction-and-overdose.php

7)      A Population-based Cohort Study on Chronic Pain:The Role of Opioids Per Sjøgren, MD, DMSC,* Morten Grønbæk, PhD, Vera Peuckmann, PhD,  and Ola Ekh-+olm, PhDw, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.

8)      http://coventrywcs.com/web/groups/public/@cvty_workerscomp_coventrywcs/documents/webcontent/c054910.pdf

9)      Shell WE, Silver D, Charuvastra E, Pavlik S, Bullias D; “Theramine and Ibuprofen for the treatment of chronic low back pain double blind clinical trial”, 2010 Targeted Medical Pharma Inc.

10)   Shell WE et al.; “Theramine and Naproxen for the treatment of low back pain, a double bind clinical trial”; Americal Journal of Therapeutics April,2012.

The Cost of Pain

Pain and the treatment of pain affect every sector of our society with at least 100 million adult Americans reportedly suffering  from common chronic pain conditions, a conservative estimate because it does not include acute pain of children.[1]  The proliferation of pain in the United States has resulted in a sharp increase over the past decade in the overuse of narcotics. The prescribing of narcotics has become a popular option for the treatment of chronic pain associated with back injuries, headaches, arthritis, and fibromyalgia.

Chronic pain takes an enormous personal toll on millions of patients and their families, and leads to increased health care costs. Patients with chronic pain have more hospital admissions, longer hospital stays, and unnecessary trips to the emergency department. Such inefficient and even wasteful treatment for pain is contributing to the rapid rise in health care costs in the United States.

The prevalence of pain has a tremendous impact on business.  A recent report by the Institute of Medicine indicated that the annual value of lost productivity in 2010 dollars ranged between $297.4 billion to $335.5 billion. The value of lost productivity is based on three estimates: days of work missed (ranging from $11.6 to $12.7 billion); hours of work lost (from $95.2 to $96.5 billion); and lower wages (from $190.6 billion to $226.3 billion)[2]. This billion dollar annualized price tag will likely climb as the U.S. population ages.

The cost of pain also includes the cost of treating side effects. The most commonly prescribed drug for pain is Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).  Approximately 98 million prescriptions for NSAIDs were filled in the United States in 2012 (IMS 2012).  Although effective in treating pain and inflammation, NSAIDs are linked to adverse side effects which make them inappropriate for use in many patient populations.  There are several serious side effects and toxicity related to use of traditional NSAIDs which can lead to costly hospitalizations or death.

A study on the effects of NSAID induced side effects in the elderly reflected the average direct costs of GI side effects per patient-day on NSAIDs were 3.5 times higher than those of a patient-day not on NSAIDs. Seventy percent of the cost was attributed to GI events resulting from NSAID treatment. [3]

NSAIDs Image

Treatment of GI problems alone caused by the use of NSAIDs is estimated to add over 40% to the cost of arthritis care[4]

From the perspective of the healthcare system, minor GI side-effects and prophylactic gastroprotection against NSAID-related side-effects may consume even more healthcare resources than severe events because of their high prevalence.

Opioid use has resulted in increased hospitalizations, increased spending on opioid addiction and increased workplace costs.  The cost of the average lost time claim with long acting opioids is 900% higher than those without the use of opioids. U.S. emergency room visits have also increased.  The number of cases in which an opioid other than heroin was cited as a reason for an emergency room treatment in  2004 was 299,498 and in 2011 was 885,348, an almost 300% increase.[5]

While many assume that increase spending and use of pharmaceuticals for pain has had a positive effect on the overall mitigation of pain, there is little scientific data on the relationship between spending on pharmaceutical agents and pain resolution.  Simply treating the symptoms of pain have not proven to be effective nor cost saving in the long run. However, it is increasingly clear that there may be a positive relationship between the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions with or without the use of pharmaceutical and the resolution of pain.

#medicalfoods #NSAIDs #opiods #sideeffects


[1] IMS Health Data, California Workers’ Compensation Institute

[2] Institute of Medicine of the National Academies Report. Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research, 2011. The National Academies Press, Washington DC

[3] Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2001 August; 52(2): 185–192. Cost of prescribed NSAID-related gastrointestinal adverse events in elderly patients

[4] Bloom, BS. Direct medical costs of disease and gastrointestinal side effects during treatment for arthritis. Am J Med. 1988; 84(2A): 20-24

[5] IMS Health Data, California Workers’ Compensation Institute

The Rising Healthcare Costs of Pharmaceuticals

Prescription drug use and abuse in the United States, continues to rise at an alarming rate as consumers continue to rely on pharmaceuticals for managing disease symptoms. A recent Mayo Clinic study reports that nearly 70% of all Americans have used at least one prescription drug and more than half receive at least two prescriptions, a percentage that has grown over the last decade. A startling 13% of Americans are on painkilling opiods. Increased prescription writing for pharmaceuticals unfortunately results in more side effects, polypharmacy, fatal overdoses and frequent abuse. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The overall impact on healthcare expenditures on prescription drugs reached $259 billion in 2010, and accounted for 12 percent of the total personal health care expenditures and is expected to double over the next decade.

This dramatic increase in prescription drug use can be attributed to a number of factors. For example,  as the average lifespan of people increases so to does the incidence of chronic disease, many of which are conditions requiring more treatments and drugs for longer periods of time; patients expect that they will always receive a prescription when they go to a physician’s office which encourages doctors to overprescribe; hospitals and emergency rooms with little time for alternative treatments, want to help patients by giving them prescriptions to treat them expediently for pain, sleep and other issues; and since women on average visit a doctor more frequently than men do, women are often prescribed a narcotic or anti-anxiety drug more often than most men.

generic pills and bottleIncreased prescribing of drugs unfortunately results in more side effects and even fatal overdoses. According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2010, the number of fatal overdoses has increased fivefold among women and tripled among men. When abuse of prescriptions is considered, the problem can be described as epidemic.  Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over whom used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically.

These escalations continue to put stress on America’s health care system.  Many studies point to the economic impact associated with the increased use of pharmaceuticals. In a recent study released by the Worker’s Compensation Research Institute, the average cost of treating an injured worker without an opiate is $13,000, compared to an average cost of $117,000 for a patient prescribed a long-acting opiate like OxyContin.  According to the Express Scripts 2012 Workers’ Compensation Drug Trend Report for each dollar spent on abused drugs, an additional $41 is used for associated medical treatment.

It’s no secret that more Americans want medical alternatives without the harmful side effects associated with certain pharmaceuticals.  Consumer demands have shifted away from traditional pharmaceuticals to natural alternatives such as plant based pharmaceuticals and more recently medical foods.  In fact, seventy-one percent of sleep-deprived Americans would rather use other means than pharmaceutical drugs to help them sleep, according to a 2013 Harris interactive Rx Sleep Survey.

In one pharmacoeconomic analysis published in the Journal of Pharmacy Research, it was determined that the actual cost of using the non-opiate pain medication, Theramine®, a prescription medical food with minimal side effects is considerably lower when compared to the total impact of NSAIDs.  Medical foods, once a novelty, are becoming mainstream for a variety of diseases. Since drugs and medical foods work along different pathways in the body, medical foods are often recommended as a complementary or adjunct medication to a reduced dosage of a drug, thereby minimizing the potential of harmful side effects associated with traditional, high dose medications. Medical foods offer an important alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals ultimately improving patient outcomes and reducing healthcare care costs.