Chronic pain affects 85 million individuals in the United States alone. Many chronic pain sufferers take opiates for pain relief and addiction is an ongoing problem. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, prescription drug abuse has become one of the fastest-growing public health concerns in L.A. as well as the rest of the U.S. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an alarming report that overdose deaths from highly addictive opioid painkillers, such as Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone, in the US has risen sharply in the past decade. Furthermore, the rate increase for women has significantly outpaced that of men. To get an update on the situation, I consulted with Eric Grigsby, MD, MBA, a pain physician who practices in Napa Valley, California.
It is well known that pain is subjective and difficult to measure; however, pain specialists like Dr. Grigsby as well as many other physicians attempt to measure pain as objectively as possible and treat pain as effectively as possible. Dr. Grigsby offers some pain sufferers targeted direct drug therapy, which is a device that injects pain medication directly into the spinal canal at a location where it can be most effective in alleviating pain. Dr. Grigsby pointed out the advantages of the therapy. They include:
- Less medication is required than if the patient were to receive either injections or a tablet.
- Overdosage is less likely than with high dose oral medication.
- The medication is not accessible to other members of the household who might abuse it (i.e., a teen who is seeking a “high”).
- Individuals with a prior drug abuse problem that they have conquered can suffer an injury requiring strong painkillers. The targeted direct may significantly reduce the risk of a relapse of the addiction.
I asked Dr. Grigsby about possible infections with the device. He informed me that such infections were rare and primarily involved a local skin reaction, which could be readily treated. Recharging the device is a simple matter that is done at two- to three-month intervals.
It is a simple office procedure, which could also help taper the amount of medication for patients addicted to painkillers. Dr. Grigsby believes it could be extremely beneficial to patients who want to kick their habit. The system can slowly taper the amount of a narcotic in small increments, not possible with any other method, such as breaking tablets in half or reducing the injection amount. Despite the potential benefits of targeted direct drug therapy, it does not have FDA approval.
Next month, Dr. Grigsby is also hosting his annual Napa Pain Conference, which will bring pain management specialists from around the world to discuss advancing the treatment of pain and improving the lives of patients. For information about the conference, click on this link. For additional information regarding targeted direct drug therapy, click on this link.