The Role of Science in Addressing the Opioid Crisis

Opioid misuse and addiction is an ongoing and rapidly evolving public health crisis, requiring innovative scientific solutions | New England Journal of Medicine
Image source: Marina Caruso – Wellcome Images // CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

In response, and because no existing medication is ideal for every patient, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is joining with private partners to launch an initiative in three scientific areas: developing better overdose-reversal and prevention interventions to reduce mortality, saving lives for future treatment and recovery; finding new, innovative medications and technologies to treat opioid addiction; and finding safe, effective, nonaddictive interventions to manage chronic pain. Each of these areas requires a range of short-, intermediate-, and long-term research strategies

Full reference: Volkow, N.D. & and Collins, F.S. (2017) The Role of Science in Addressing the Opioid Crisis.  New England Journal of Medicine. Issue 377: pp.391-394


The potential for big data analytics to enhance our knowledge of the complex regional pain syndromes

In an era of expanding costs and declining reimbursement, the healthcare industry has dramatically expanded the collection of demographic and clinical data to facilitate billing efficiency and maintain financial solvency | Journal of Clinical Anesthesia


Electronic health data collection has primarily emphasized the capture of diagnostic coding, medication delivery, laboratory utilization, and procedural interventions to support third party reimbursement claims, improve efficiency, and provide transparency. Although much of the electronic stored data was never directly intended to answer clinical questions, or guide clinical care, the use of data analytics has created opportunities to winnow through the vast data collections and pull out useful insights into previously unrecognized patterns of common and uncommon medical disorders

Full reference: Burgess, F. & Fragoza, K. (2017) Fishing for answers in an ocean of data: The potential for big data analytics to enhance our knowledge of the complex regional pain syndromes. Journal of Clinical Anesthesia. Volume 40. pp. 117–118

Chronic Pain Management: Moving Beyond Pharmacotherapy

Heale, R. Evidence-Based Nursing Blog. Published online: 23 October 2016

B0005910 Back pain
Image source: Bill McConkey – Wellcome Images // CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Pain is an essential part of life.  It tells us when and where we’ve sustained an injury.  This acute pain ensures that we seek out and address the problem at hand.  However, some pain continues for much longer than necessary. Pain signals remain active, muscles tense in response, energy is lowered and there are changes in appetite.  People often experience depression, anxiety or anger as a result of living with these ongoing effects.

Treatment of chronic pain can be complex. There are a whole host of medications ranging from opioids to antidepressants to medications addressing neuropathic pain.  Although useful in many cases, medications are not without side effects and there can be negative outcomes, including addiction.  More and more we see alternative therapies being implemented to help in the management of chronic pain such as yoga, massage and acupuncture.  In recent years, attention has turned to treatments that address mental and psychological coping of patients, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Read the full blog post here

Opioid Prescribing for Chronic Pain — Achieving the Right Balance through Education

Daniel P. Alford. New England Journal of Medicine 2016; 374:301-303

Image source: Eric Norris

In recent decades, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in opioid prescribing for chronic pain. That growth has been associated with increasing misuse of prescription opioids1 and has led to increases in deaths due to unintentional opioid overdose and in the number of people seeking treatment for opioid-misuse disorders. There’s probably 100% agreement that we, as a profession and society, have become overly opioid-centric in our management of chronic pain. Far more controversial are the role of long-term opioid therapy in managing chronic pain and the best strategy for ending the epidemic of prescription-opioid misuse.

Groups lobbying against prescribing opioids for chronic pain remind us that the effectiveness of long-term opioid therapy has been inadequately studied.2 I believe that this is a case of absence of evidence rather than evidence of absence. As we await scientific evidence, questions remain regarding how best to address the epidemic of prescription-opioid misuse now. Groups advocating quick fixes believe that regulations that limit opioid availability are the best plan. This strategy is well intentioned and will certainly reduce opioid prescribing, but such blunt approaches will also limit access to opioids for patients who are benefiting or may potentially benefit from them.

Read the perspectives article via NEJM