Saturday, April 22, 2017
Steven Pete has no idea how you feel. Sitting in Cassava, a café in Longview, Washington, next to a bulletin board crammed with flyers and promises—your pain-free tomorrow starts today; remember: you're not alone in your battle against peripheral neuropathy!—he tells me he cannot fathom aches or pinches or the searing scourge of peripheral neuropathy that keep millions of people awake at night or hooked on pills. He was born with a rare neurological condition called congenital insensitivity to pain, and for 36 years he has hovered at or near a 1 on the pain scale. He's 5′ 8″, with glasses and thinning brown hair, and he has a road map of scars across his body, mostly hidden beneath a T-shirt bearing the partial crests of Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Superman. Because he never learned to avoid injury, which is the one thing pain is really good for, he gets injured a lot. When I ask how many bones he's broken, he lets out a quick laugh.
"Oh gosh. I haven't actually done the count yet," he says. "But somewhere probably around 70 or 80." With each fracture, he didn't feel much of anything—or even notice his injury at all. Whether he saw a doctor depended on how bad the break appeared to be. "A toe or a finger, I'd just take care of that myself," he says, wagging a slightly bent index finger. "Duct tape."
What about something more serious? Pete pauses for a moment and recalls a white Washington day a few years ago. "We had thick snow, and we went inner-tubing down a hill. Well, I did a scorpion, where you take a running start and jump on the tube. You're supposed to land on your stomach, but I hit it at the wrong angle. I face-planted on the hill, and my back legs just went straight up over my head." Pete got up and returned to tubing, and for the next eight months he went on as usual, until he started noticing the movement in his left arm and shoulder felt off. His back felt funny too. He ended up getting an MRI. "The doctor looked at my MRI results, and he was like, 'Have you been in a car accident? About six months ago? Were you skydiving?' "
"I haven't done either," Pete replied.
The doctor stared at his patient in disbelief. "You've got three fractured vertebrae." Pete had broken his back.
Throughout his body today, Pete has a strange feeling: "a weird radiating sensation," as he describes it, an overall discomfort but not quite pain as you and I know it. He and others born with his condition have been compared to superheroes—indomitable, unbreakable. In his basement, where the shelves are lined with videogames about biologically and technologically enhanced soldiers, there is even a framed sketch of a character in full body armor, with the words painless pete. But Pete knows better. "There's no way I could live a normal life right now if I could actually feel pain," he says. He would probably be constrained to a bed or wheelchair from all the damage his body has sustained.
His wife, Jessica, joins us at the café. She is petite and shy, with ice-blue eyes traced in black eyeliner. When I ask her what it's like to live with a man who feels no pain, she sighs. "I worry about him all the time." She worries about him working with his power tools in the basement. She worries about him cooking over a grill. She worries about bigger things too. "If he has a heart attack, he won't be able to feel it," she says. "He'll rub his arm sometimes, and I freak out: 'Are you OK?' " She looks over at Pete, who chuckles. "He thinks it's funny," she says. "I don't think it's funny."
Sunday, April 16, 2017
In the past couple of years, the treatment of chronic pain has undergone an earthshaking transformation as opioid addiction continues to claim — and ruin — lives.
Many primary care doctors no longer liberally prescribe opioid painkillers such as oxycodone, fentanyl and hydrocodone for back pain, migraines and other chronic conditions. Instead, they are increasingly turning to alternative medications and non-drug options such as acupuncture and physical therapy.
"Most primary care doctors are afraid to do pain management because of the opioid backlash," says Michael McClelland, a health care attorney in Rocklin, Calif., and former chief of enforcement for the state Department of Managed Health Care. "Either they don't prescribe anything, and the patient remains in pain, or they turn them over to pain management specialists so someone else is writing that prescription."
As a result, McClelland says, "people in genuine pain are going to find it more difficult to get medicine they may well need."
Thursday, March 30, 2017
This situation did not develop overnight, but it has quickly become one of the biggest public health crises facing America. To understand how and why, I've put together a series of maps and charts that show the key elements of the epidemic — from its start through legalpainkillers prescribed in droves by doctors to the recent rise of the highly potent opioid fentanyl.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
"At least 40 per cent of patients who suffer from severe forms of chronic pain also develop depression at some point, along with other cognitive problems," says Venetia Zachariou of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
To see if there might be a genetic link between these conditions, Zachariou and her team studied mice with damage to their peripheral nervous system. These mice show symptoms similar to chronic pain in people – they become hypersensitive to harmless touch, and avoid other situations that might also cause them pain.
Until now, pain behaviour in mice had only been studied for at most a week at a time, says Zachariou, whose team monitored their mice for 10 weeks. "At the beginning, we saw only sensory deficits and pain-like symptoms. But several weeks later, the animals developed anxiety and depression-like behaviours."
The team then examined gene activity in three regions in the mouse brains we know are associated with depression and anxiety. Analysing the nucleus accumbens, medial prefrontal cortex, and periaqueductal gray, they found nearly 40 genes where activity was significantly higher or lower than in mice without the nervous system damage.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
In a large representative sample of opioid-naive, cancer-free adults who received a first prescription for opioid pain relievers, the likelihood of long-term opioid use increased with each additional day of medication supplied, starting with the third day, the study team found.
"Knowledge that the risks for chronic opioid use increase with each additional day supplied might help clinicians evaluate their initial opioid prescribing decisions and potentially reduce the risk for long-term opioid use," the authors, led by Bradley Martin, PharmD, PhD, at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, write.
"Discussions with patients about the long-term use of opioids to manage pain should occur early in the opioid prescribing process," they advise in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of March 17.
Friday, March 03, 2017
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Scientists are chasing a new lead on a class of drugs that may one day fight both pain and opioid addiction. It's still early days, but researchers report that they've discovered a new small molecule that binds selectively to a long-targeted enzyme, halting its role in pain and addiction while not interfering with enzymes critical to healthy cell function. The newly discovered compound isn't likely to become a medicine any time soon. But it could jumpstart the search for other binders that could do the job.
Pain and addiction have many biochemical roots, which makes it difficult to treat them without affecting other critical functions in cells. Today, the most potent painkillers are opioids, including heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. In addition to interrupting pain, they inhibit enzymes known as adenylyl cyclases (ACs) that convert cells' energy currency, ATP, into a molecule involved in intracellular chemical communication known as cyclic AMP (cAMP). Chronic opioid use can make cells increase the activity of ACs to compensate, causing cAMP levels to skyrocket. When opioid users try to stop using, their cAMP levels remain high, and drugs that reduce those levels—like buprenorphine—have unwanted side effects.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
On Monday, the American College of Physicians published updated guidelines that say much the same. In making the new recommendations for the treatment of most people with lower back pain, the group is bucking what many doctors do and changing its previous guidelines, which called for medication as first-line therapy.
Dr. Nitin Damle, president of the group's board of regents and a practicing internist, said pills, even over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, should not be the first choice. "We need to look at therapies that are nonpharmacological first," he said. "That is a change."
Sunday, February 05, 2017
Welcome to Pain Researcher, a community forum for anyone involved or interested in the study of pain.
The major purpose of this forum is to facilitate discussion around any and all topics related to the pain research. One important gap that this forum aims to fill involves the sharing of knowledge needed to properly execute pain studies such as detailed protocols, technical tips, tool development, methodological considerations, etc. It is these crucial details that determine the quality and validity of the findings of pain studies, and so we hope that giving a space to discuss such details will improve pain research globally.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
I’ve seen the opioid epidemic as a cop. Living it as a patient has been even worse. - The Washington Post
It was a ruptured disc and related nerve damage. Within a couple of months, it became so severe that I could no longer walk or stand. An MRI later, my surgeon soothingly told me it would all be okay. He would take care of me; the pain would end.
After surgery, I never saw that surgeon again. A nurse practitioner handed me a prescription for painkillers — 180 tablets, 90 each of oxycodone and hydrocodone.
I was lucky: I already knew how easily opioid addiction could destroy a life. I'd arrested addicts and helped people suffering from substance abuse. So as soon as I could, I weaned myself off the medication. Still, I fell into the trap when my pain returned months later, and I started taking the pills again.
Since then, I've been stuck like a growing number of people in a system that leaves patients beholden to terrible health policy, the horrific consequences of federal drug policy, uninformed media hysteria about an opioid epidemic and an army of uncoordinated medical professionals bearing — then seizing — bottles of pills.
I asked repeatedly for alternatives, but I was told none were available. I started physical therapy and sought treatment at an authorized pain management clinic. My first pain management doctor was terse as she prescribed more hydrocodone for daytime and oxycodone for the night, when my pain was worse. To her, I was just another person in a day of people receiving identical treatment. Later she'd say she had little choice: Insurance companies routinely deny even slightly adventurous prescriptions.
A nearby chain pharmacy refused to fill it, saying, "You can't mix hydrocodone and oxycodone." As my prescription testified, I was receiving the required "close monitoring" by a doctor when taking that particular combination. When I called the pain clinic for help, the staff berated me for bothering them. They asked whether I was seeking drugs. I was — the ones they had prescribed.
Friday, January 06, 2017
Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015. Overdose deaths were nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes. In 2015, for the first time, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides.