Herd

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: herd.

I am reading Dopesick, newly out this year, by Beth Macy. I am wondering what make people try addictive substances. At what age and why? To be popular? Herd mentality?

I’ve interviewed my older smokers for years, asking what age they started. Most of them say they tried cigarettes at age 9. Nine, you say? Yes. Parents then look horrified when I say that they should start talking about drugs and alcohol and tobacco by the time their child is in third grade. Recently a woman told me that she tried cigarettes at age 7.

It’s not just talking to your kids, either. It’s modeling as well. What do you model for tobacco, for alcohol, for prescription medicines, supplements and over the counter medicines? Do you say one thing but do another?

I am 100 pages in to Dopesick. The most horrifying new information is that more people under age 50 have died from opioid overdose then died in the 1990s from HIV and AIDS. Also the failure of history: we have had morphine available over the counter until addiction swept the country. Then heroin. This round is oxycontin. And I checked the index: no mention of kratom, sold from southeast asia. It is related to the coffee plant but it works as an opioid. It has been illegal in Thailand since 1943. I think they figured out that it too is addictive a long time ago.

I was an introvert, a smart girl, a geek before there was a word. I did not party and was not invited. I went to Denmark as an exchange student. I tried a cigarette there and decided that I couldn’t afford it and it tasted awful. I drank beer there, but was careful. I did go to a party where I was offered a bowl of pills: no. I was cautious and became even more cautious when I returned to the US.

When and what did you try first? And WHY? What makes us try these addictive substances? The evidence is piling up that the younger we try them, the more chance of addiction. And certain substances addict very very quickly.

Who chooses not to be part of the herd and why?

Tobacco Use Disorder

With the DSM-V, there is no longer a separate diagnosis of Opioid Dependence and Opioid Addiction. The two are combined into Opioid Use Disorder. Opioid Use disorder can be mild, moderate or severe. And all of the addictive substances have the same list. So here is Tobacco Use Disorder.

According to the DSM-5, there are three Criterion with 15 sub features, and four specifiers to diagnose Tobacco Use disorder. Use of tobacco products over one year has resulted in at least two of the following sub features:

A, Larger quantities of tobacco over a longer period then intended are consumed.

1. Unsuccessful efforts to quit or reduce intake of tobacco

2. Inordinate amount of time acquiring or using tobacco products

3. Cravings for tobacco

4. Failure to attend to responsibilities and obligations due to tobacco use

5. Continued use despite adverse social or interpersonal consequences

6, Forfeiture of social, occupational or recreational activities in favor of tobacco use

7. Tobacco use in hazardous situations

8. Continued use despite awareness of physical or psychological problems directly attributed to tobacco use

B. Tolerance for nicotine, as indicated by:

9. Need for increasingly larger doses of nicotine in order to obtain the desired effect

A noticeably diminished effect from using the same amounts of nicotine

C. Withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use as indicated by

10. The onset of typical nicotine associated withdrawal symptoms is present

11. More nicotine or a substituted drug is taken to alleviate withdrawal symptoms

Additional specifiers indicate the level of severity of Tobacco use disorder

1. 305.1 (Z72.0) Mild: two or three symptoms are present.

2. 305.1 (F17.200) Moderate: four or five symptoms are present.

3. 305.1 (F17.200) Severe: Six or more Symptoms are present

(American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

from: https://www.theravive.com/therapedia/tobacco-use-disorder-dsm–5-305.1-(z72.0)-(f17.200)

We have much more stigma attached to Opioid Use Disorder, but list for Tobacco Use Disorder is the same. Most chronic pain patients on long term opioids qualify for at least mild Opioid Use Disorder. UW Telepain says that if they only have withdrawal and tolerance, then it is questionable if they qualify. They also have said that “we don’t know what to do with patients with mild opioid use disorder”.

I find our culture peculiar. People get accolades for saying “I am quitting smoking.” or “I am a recovering alcoholic.” But it’s not ok to say “I am a recovering opioid addict.” People will shun you. Demonize. Gossip. It’s all addiction, so we should stop the demonization and stigmatization and help people and each other.

The photograph is not a brain. I took this about a month ago: it’s a brain size mushroom that was in the church lawn…

from the mist

For the Daily Prompt: forest.

My town is a forest at sunrise and sunset. The trees take over, dark against the sky. And look,  something is rising from the mist.

Medicine is like that too. Did the epidemic of unintentional overdose deaths catch you by surprise? People, including doctors, thought opioids were safe, if taken correctly. And that we should increase them if the person still had chronic pain. But the information is still changing and taking shape from the fog.

I have worked with the University of Washington Telepain service since 2011. I can’t attend every week, but many weeks I spend Wednesday lunch in front of the computer, logged on to hear a thirty minute lecture from UW and then to hear cases presented from all over the state.

I want to sing the praises of the doctors on Telepain and the Washington State Legislature for having this program. Here is a link to a five minute King5  news program about UW Telepain.

https://www.king5.com/video/news/local/fighting-opioid-epidemic-via-video/281-8115411

Forty two different sites were logged on. There are also UW Telemedicine programs for hepatitis C and for patients with addiction and psychiatric problems. The advantage is that all of we rural doctors learn from one doctor presenting a patient and the panel discussing it and making recommendations. We have Dr. Tauben, head of the pain clinic, a psychiatrist, a physiatrist, a family doctor who treats opioid addiction, a psychologist and a social worker. And often a guest speaker! We have a standard form to fill out, with no names: year of birth and male or female. It is a team that can help us to care for our patients.

New information in healthcare rises out of the mist….

 

Resources on opioid addiction

This is a list of resources on opioid addiction that I am putting together for a talk to a community advocate group this Thursday.

The big picture:

CDC Grand Rounds: Prescription Drug Overdoses — a U.S. Epidemic, January 2012: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm

CDC 2018 (It’s not getting better yet.) https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0329-drug-overdose-deaths.html


Snohomish County:

Snohomish County:

http://mynorthwest.com/878895/snohomish-co-opioid-crisis/

https://drkottaway.com/2018/03/03/reducing-recidivism-snohomish-county-sheriffs-office-and-human-services-program/

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/state-house-backs-snohomish-county-opioid-help-center/

http://knkx.org/post/snohomish-county-jail-now-offering-medically-assisted-detox-inmates

Washington State Pain Law

https://www.doh.wa.gov/ForPublicHealthandHealthcareProviders/HealthcareProfessionsandFacilities/OpioidPrescribing

https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/PoisoningandDrugOverdose/OpioidMisuseandOverdosePrevention


Is it genes that make people addicts?
(The short answer is genes are a minimal contribution. It is society and patterns learned in childhood and adulthood.)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (put people at way higher risk for addiction):
https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html


Books that helped me understand addiction
(in my teens):

It will never happen to me by Claudia Black (about the patterns children take in addiction households to survive and cope with childhood)

Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown (a black male writes about his childhood in Harlem when heroin hit the community. He was in a gang at age 6.)

Causes of death: which does your doctor treat?

What is the number one cause of death in the United States? The heart. You know that.

You might know the number two: all the cancer deaths put together.

Number three is lower respiratory disease: mostly caused by tobacco.

Number four. Can you guess? Number four is accidents. Unintentional deaths. In 2012 number four was stroke, but unintentional deaths have moved up the list, here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm. The CDC tracks unintentional deaths, here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm. And what is the number one cause of unintentional death right now? It is not gun accidents. It is not car wrecks. It is not falls. It is unintentional overdose: usually opioids, legal or illegal, often combined with other sedating medicines or alcohol. Alcohol, sleep medicines, benzodiazepines, some muscle relaxants. No suicide note. Not on purpose. Or we don’t know if it is on purpose….

And does your physician try to prevent accidental death? Do they talk to you about seatbelts, about wearing bicycle helmets, about smoke alarms, about falls in the elderly, about domestic violence, about locking up guns? About not driving when under the influence? Do they talk about addiction and do they treat addiction?I think that every primary care physician should treat the top ten causes of death. I am a family medicine physician and I try to work with any age, any person. I treat addiction as well as chronic pain. I have always tried to talk about the risk of opiates when I prescribe them. I treat addictions including alcoholism, methamphetamines, cocaine, tobacco and opioids. Legal, illegal and iv opioids, from oxcodone and hydrocodone to heroin. That doesn’t mean I can safely treat every patient outpatient. People with multi drug addiction, or complex mental health with addiction, or severe withdrawal must be treated inpatient. But I have taken the buprenorphine training to get my second DEA number to learn how to safely treat opiate overuse. I took the course in 2011. I was the only physician in my county of 27,000 people who was a prescriber for two years. Now we have more, but still the vast majority of physicians in the United States have not taken the training even when it is offered free.

I don’t understand why more physicians, primary care doctors, are NOT taking the buprenorphine and recognition and treatment of opiate overuse course. Most are not trained. Why not take the training? Even if they are not prescribers, they will be much better informed for the options for patients. People are dying from opioids daily. Physicians have a DEA number to prescribe controlled substances: I think that every physician who prescribes opioids also has a duty and obligation to train to recognized and intervene and be informed about treating opioid overuse.

A large clinic group in Portland, Oregon made the decision last year that every primary care provider was required to train in buprenorphine. One provider disagreed and chose to leave. However, everyone else is now trained.

We as a country and as physicians need to get past fear, past stigma, past discrimination and past our fixed ideas and step up to take care of patients. If a physician treats alcoholism as part of primary care, they should also be knowledgeable and trained in treatment of opiate overuse.

Ask YOUR physician and YOUR local clinics: Do the providers prescribe opiates? Are their providers trained in preventing, recognizing and treating opiate addiction? Do they treat opiate overuse? Do they understand how buprenorphine can save lives and return people to work and to their families? Are they part of the solution?

For the Daily Prompt: provoke.

Pain as a vital sign

A recent article in the Family Practice News says that a survey of 225 physicians reveals that 33% of them think that the opioid crisis in the US is caused by over prescribing opioids. 24% said aggressive patient drug seeking and 18% said it is due to drug dealers. How quickly things change.

In 1996 pain was declared the fifth vital sign, after temperature,  pulse (heart rate), respiration rate and blood pressure. I disagreed with it because it focused on pain, by telling the nurses in the hospital and the outpatient providers to always to ask about pain. I thought it would be better to focus on level of comfort than pain. I thought we were using opioids far too freely and I thought that patients were getting addicted. The pain specialists said that we had to treat pain, and we were given very few tools other than opioids. Primary care providers were told that they could be sued for too much or too little pain medicine.

I also disagreed with it because pain is NOT a vital sign. That is, the level of pain does not correlate with illness. If a person has a high fever of 104 I am sure they are sick, a fast or very slow heart rate, a blood pressure too high or two low, they are breathing too fast: these are vital signs. They often correlate to illness and help us decide if this is outpatient, urgent or emergent. But pain does not. A chronic pain patient may have a pain level of 8/10 and yet not be an emergency or in a life-threatening state at all. That does not mean that they are lying or that we don’t wish to help with pain.

In June, 2016, the American Medical Association recommended dropping pain as a vital sign. https://www.painnewsnetwork.org/stories/2016/6/16/ama-drops-pain-as-vital-sign. The Joint Commission for Hospital Accreditation dropped pain as a vital sign in August, 2016. https://www.jointcommission.org/joint_commission_statement_on_pain_management/

Why? Not only were people getting addicted to opiates, but they were and are dying of unintentional overdoses: sedation from opiates with alcohol, with anxiety medicines such as benzodiazepines, with soma, with sleep medicines such as ambien and zolpidem. If the person is sedated enough, they stop breathing and die. The CDC declared an epidemic of unintentional overdoses in 2012: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm and said that more US citizens were dying of prescription medicines taken as instructed then from motor vehicle accidents and guns and illegal drugs.

So the poem below and a second poem I will post tomorrow reflect how I thought about pain as a vital sign. It is not a vital sign, because a high pain level does not tell me if the person is critically ill and may die. It does not correlate. Pain matters and we want to treat it, but the first responsibility is “do not harm”. Letting people get addicted and killing some is harm.

Also, opioids have limited effectiveness and high risk for chronic pain. I have worked with  The University of Washington Pain and Addiction Clinic since 2010 via telemedicine. They say that average improvement of chronic pain with opioids is about 30%. Higher and higher doses do not help and increase the risk of overdose and death. And the risk of addiction.

I think of pain as information. Studies of fibromyalgia patients with functional MRI of the brain show that they are not lying about their pain. In a study normal and fibromyalgia patients were given the same pain stimulus on the hand. The normal patients said that they felt 3-4/10 pain. The fibromyalgia patients felt 7-8/10 pain with the same stimulus and the pain centers lit up correspondingly more in their brains. So they are not lying.

Why would opioids only lower chronic pain about 30% even with higher doses? The brain considers pain important information. We need to snatch our finger away from a flame, stop if we smash our toe, deal with a broken bone. I think of opioids like noise cancelling headphones. Say you are listening to music. You put on headphones/take round the clock opioids. Your brain automatically turns up the gain: the music volume or the pain sensors. Now it hurts again. You take more. The brain turns up the gain. Now: take the noise cancelling headphones off. The music/pain is too loud and it hurts! With music we can turn it down, but the brain cannot adjust the gain for pain quickly.

We do not understand the shift from acute pain to chronic pain, yet. The shift is in the brain. I think that we are too quick to mask and block pain rather than use the information. Now the recommendations for opioids are to only use them for 3-5 days for acute pain and injury. For years I have said with any opioid prescription: try not to take them around the clock and try to decrease the use as soon as possible. Some people get addicted. Be careful.

If we don’t hand people a pill for pain, what can we do? There are more and more therapies. Jon Kabot Zinn’s 30 years of studying mindfulness meditation is very important. His chronic pain classes reduce pain by an average of 50%: better than opiates. Pain and stress hormones drop by 50% in a study of a one hour massage. Massage, physical therapy, chiropracty and acupuncture: different people respond to different modalities. Above all, reassuring people that the level of pain in chronic pain does not correlate to the level of illness or ongoing damage. And pain is composed of at least three parts: the sharp nocioceptive pain, nerve pain (neuropathic) and emotional pain. We must address the emotional part too. We have no tool at this time to sort the pain into the three categories. My rule is that I always address all three. That does not mean every person needs a counselor or psychiatrist. It means that we must have time to discuss stress and discuss life events and check in about coping.

In the survey of 225 providers, 50% estimated that they prescribe opioids to fewer than 10% of their patients. 38% said less than half. 12% estimated that they prescribe opioids to more than half their patients. The survey included US primary care, emergency department and pain management physicians.

Handing people a pill is quicker. But we can do better and primary care must have the time to really help people with pain.

Vital Signs I

In the hospital now
I am told we have a new
Vital sign
Like blood pressure and pulse
We are to measure
Pain
And always treat it

Sometimes I wonder

Mr. X is in the ICU
I tell his family
He may die

On a scale of one to ten
What is his wife’s pain?
His daughter’s
We are not treating them
Only Mr. X

We try to suppress pain
Signals from our nerves
Physical pain is easier

I think of our great forests
We suppressed fire

And that was wrong
If fire is suppressed
Undergrowth builds up
Fuel levels rise
Fire comes
Rages out of control
All is destroyed

If fires burn
More naturally
More regularly
What is left?

At first it looks desolate
The tall trees are burnt
Around their bases
But they live
Adapted to the fire
Majestic pines
Revealed
Would our values were as clear

Some pines
Seeds
Pinecones
Will only germinate
In fire
When the undergrowth
Is cleared
Conditions are right
For new growth

Perhaps pain is our fire
Grief is our fire

If we block pain
Where does it go?
Does the fuel build?

I wonder if the tall pines
Fear fire
Would they avoid it
If they could

Perhaps suppression
Is not the answer

Perhaps we can change
Remain present
Acknowledge pain
As normal
As joy

Perhaps if I
Step into the fire
I can remain
Present
For you

And you will be
Less alone
Less afraid

I open my doors

Let the fire burn

poem written before 2009

CDC guidelines for treating chronic pain: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/pdf/guidelines_factsheet-a.pdf