CONTEXT: It is uncertain whether terminally ill schizophrenic cancer patients are hypoalgesic or have disparities in pain management.
OBJECTIVES: To analyze the dosage of opioids used in terminally ill cancer patients with and without schizophrenia.
METHODS: This is a population-based retrospective cohort study based on data derived from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database. Patients aged > 20 and newly diagnosed between 2000 and 2012 with at least one of the six most common cancers were included. After 1:4 matching, 1001 schizophrenic cancer patients comprised the schizophrenia cohort, while 4004 cancer patients without schizophrenia comprised the non-schizophrenia cohort. The percentage of opioid use, accumulated dose, and average daily dose near the end of life were analyzed for each cohort using multiple logistic and linear regression models.
RESULTS: The percentage of opioid use was lower in the schizophrenic cohort than the non-schizophrenic cohort during the last month prior to death [69.6 % versus 84.8%, odd ratio (OR) = 0.40, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.34-0.48]. The accumulated dose of opioid consumption was also lower in the schizophrenic cohort (2407 mg versus 3694 mg, p value <0.05).
CONCLUSION: Near the end of life, cancer patients with schizophrenia use less opioid than their non-schizophrenic counterparts. Cognitive impairment may be a cause in the disparity in end-of-life care for terminally ill schizophrenic cancer patients. Thus, we should formulate a more accurate pain scale system and pay attention to their need for pain treatment.
Background: In many countries, the consumption of opioid medicines is too low to meet population needs. Discussions within the Access To Opioid Medication in Europe project indicated that there may be significant differences in the perception of barriers for their adequate use, depending on the stakeholders.
Aim: The aim of this study was to examine the perception of barriers and their impact concerning opioid medicines, comparing policy makers, healthcare professionals working in the field of pain management, palliative care or harm reduction and other stakeholders.
Design: Data were collected using a questionnaire partially constructed from existing surveys, reviewed for content validity by four experts and pilot-tested in Latvia.
Setting/participants: Participants of the Access to Opioid Medication in Europe national conferences were invited to complete the questionnaire. Stakeholder groups were compared using non-parametric rank-sum tests.
Results: In total, 199 participants (54%) in seven countries completed the questionnaire. Most frequently rated major barriers included lack of financial resources and inadequate knowledge, skills and training among policy makers (55%–66%). Overall, policy makers perceived issues less often as major barriers or having major impact (29% barrier, 32% impact) compared to other stakeholders (36%–42% barrier, 39%–51% impact). Significant differences were seen on several aspects. For example, excessive regulation or bureaucracy for prescribing was rated as having major impact by 55%–57% of healthcare professionals in contrast to only 20% of the policy makers (p = 0.002).
Conclusion: Multiple barriers may play an important role, partly depending on the perspective of the stakeholder involved. Hence, when addressing perceived barriers, it is important to include all relevant stakeholder groups. Only then, effective and widely supported solutions can be implemented.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is common chronic respiratory disorder, predominantly caused by exposure to cigarette smoke or biomass fuels, and it usually affects older adults. Dyspnea in COPD that is unresponsive to traditional management is a challenging disease complication for both the patient and the health care professional. Off-label use of opioids has been advocated as a pharmacotherapy strategy for refractory dyspnea. However, negative respiratory outcomes are a potential concern with opioids drugs, especially among individuals with COPD. In this review, randomized controlled trials evaluating opioid efficacy among individuals with COPD are reviewed and critically analyzed, and data from observational drug safety studies is also presented. In summary, the evidence in support of using opioids for refractory dyspnea in COPD is minimal and weak, and there is mounting data demonstrating that opioids are associated with increased respiratory-related morbidity and mortality in this population. Therefore, current evidence does not support the broad application of opioids for refractory dyspnea among individuals with COPD. However, there may be subsets of individuals that experience modest improvement in dyspnea with opioids, and better understanding predictors and mechanisms of such opioid responsiveness should be a focus of future research endeavours.
Background: To the best of our knowledge, the change in opioid prescription patterns upon referral to a palliative care team (PCT) was not previously investigated in the Middle East.
Objective: This study aimed to explore the change in the pattern of opioid prescription and the pain scores before and after referring inpatients to a PCT.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of patients’ records including all inpatients =15 years newly referred to the PCT over a period of 21 months at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, Riyadh.
Results: Of 631 patients, 52.3% were females, the median age was 54 years, and 96.7% had cancer. The proportion of patients on opioids before referral (83.4%) increased to 93.3% in the postreferral period, P < .0001. Patients receiving opioids on a regular basis increased from 31.9% before referral to 49.9% after referral to the PCT, P < .0001. Morphine was the most commonly prescribed opioid on a regular basis pre- and postreferral. Upon referral, the administration of opioids through the subcutaneous route increased from 3.7% to 10.9%, P < .0001. On average, pain scores were reduced by 1 point on a 0 to 10 numeric scale within 48 hours of seeing a patient by the PCT, P < .0001.
Conclusion: Patients referred to a PCT are likely to get their opioid prescription optimized and pain scores improved shortly after the PCT involvement. Patients with cancer-related pain requiring opioids should be referred to a PCT as early as possible.
The main goal of palliative care is to relieve suffering. Opioids are an essential part of the pharmacological options required to address suffering by helping to relieve the pain and chronic breathlessness that may be experienced by someone with a life-limiting illness. This paper considers the recent history and current issues of the 'opioid crisis' providing recommendations to which regulatory and peak bodies can work with the Australian government, ensuring consistent adherence to WHO guidelines maintaining access to evidence based opioid management for palliative care patients whilst actively avoiding unintended suffering restricted access can cause. The recommendations are as follows:Review of the Palliative Care schedule of the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme Support of prescribers with current evidence, clinical practice guidelines and regulatory frameworks National opioid prescribing policies promoting linkages between palliative care and pain and addiction specialists. National real time monitoring of all opioid prescriptions Palliative care involvement in all opioids stewardship programs in acute services. Reform Medical Benefits Schedule to improve access for primary and other speciality practitioners to provide palliative care services. Compulsory palliative care education in undergraduate medical, nursing and allied health tertiary courses. Adequate, consistent stock of evidence based opioids for palliative care in community pharmacies and residential aged care facilities.These recommendations provide the regulatory guidance required to ensure persons with life limiting illness have continued access to safe and effective medication that can relieve suffering.
Background: This study aimed to assess the characteristics of breakthrough cancer pain (BTcP) in patients receiving low doses of opioids for background pain in comparison with patients receiving at least 60 mg of oral morphine equivalents (OME).
Materials and Methods: Patients with advanced cancer receiving less than 60 mg/day of OME with episodes of BTcP were included in the analysis (group L). Data were compared with patients receiving doses of opioids =60 mg of OME (group H). Pain intensity, current analgesic therapy, number of BTcP episodes, intensity of BTcP, its predictability and triggers, onset duration, interference with daily activities, BTcP medications, and time to meaningful pain relief were collected. Adverse effects imputable to a BTcP medication were recorded.
Results: A total of 1,418 and 2,474 patients were included in groups L and H, respectively. A lower number of BTcP episodes (p = .005), a lower BTcP intensity (p = .0001), a faster BTcP onset (p = .024), and a longer time to meaningful pain relief after taking a BTcP medication (p = .009) were found in group L as compared with group H. In group L, BTcP interference on daily activity was less than in group H (p = .009). Patients in group L were less likely to be prescribed an opioid as BTcP medication in comparison with patients in group H (p = .0001). Opioid doses used for BTcP were significantly higher in group H. Patients in group L were more likely to be less satisfied (p = .003) than patients in group H. No adverse effects of severe intensity were reported in both groups.
Conclusion: Patients receiving lower doses of opioids exhibit some differences in BTcP presentation: fewer episodes with lower intensity and a faster onset, a longer time to meaningful pain relief, and less satisfaction with BTcP medication. A relevant percentage of patients was receiving fentanyl preparations normally reserved for patients receiving higher doses of opioids.
Purpose: Opioids reduce cancer-related pain but an association with shorter survival is variably reported.
im: To investigate the relationship between pain, analgesics, cancer and survival within the European Palliative Care Cancer Symptom (EPCCS) study to help inform clinical decision making.
Methods: Secondary analysis of the international prospective, longitudinal EPCCS study which included 1739 adults with advanced, incurable cancer receiving palliative care. In this secondary analysis, for all participants with date of death or last follow up, a multilevel Weibull survival analysis examined whether pain, analgesics, and other relevant variables are associated with time to death.
Results: Date of death or last follow-up was available for 1404 patients (mean age 65.7 [SD:12.3];men 50%). Secondary analysis of this group showed the mean survival from baseline was 46.5 (SD:1.5) weeks (95% CI:43.6–49.3). Pain was reported by 76%; 60% were taking opioids, 51% non-opioid analgesics and 24% co-analgesics. Opioid-use was associated with decreased survival in the multivariable model (HR = 1.59 (95% CI:1.38–1.84), p < 0.001). An exploratory subgroup analysis of those with C-reactive protein (CRP) measures (n = 219) indicated higher CRP was associated with poorer survival (p = 0.001). In this model, the strength of relationship between survival and opioid-use weakened (p = 0.029).
Conclusion: Opioid-use and survival were associated; this relationship weakened in a small sensitivity-testing subgroup analysis adjusting for CRP. Thus, the observed relationship between survival and opioid-use may partly be due to tumour-related inflammation. Larger studies, measuring disease activity, are needed to confirm this finding to more accurately judge the benefits and risks of opioids in advanced progressive disease.
OBJECTIVE: Opioids are the primary therapy for cancer-related pain in patients receiving palliative care. More states are legalizing medical cannabis, which may provide a pain management alternative for some of these patients. This study aimed to estimate the effect of cannabis on opioid use in patients with cancer receiving palliative care.
METHODS: This was a retrospective cohort study of patients with cancer at an academic medical center palliative care clinic. The primary outcome was change in morphine equivalent daily dose (MEDD) from baseline to 84-day follow-up in the cannabis plus opioid group compared to that in the opioid-only group.
RESULTS: A total of 83 patients were included: 61 in the opioid monotherapy group and 22 in the cannabis plus opioid group. An increase in MEDD from the baseline to 84 days was seen in both the opioid monotherapy and opioid plus cannabis group (28.8 vs. 10.8); however, the study lacked power to detect a statistical difference.
CONCLUSION: A possibly meaningful difference in MEDD increase was seen when comparing the opioid monotherapy group with the opioid plus cannabis group. However, the study was not powered to test this hypothesis; the findings suggest that further research is warranted to determine the impact of cannabis use on opioid dosing in patients receiving palliative care for cancer.
BACKGROUND: Many palliative care health settings that care for children and young people (CYP) at the end of life use the buccal mucosa as a route of drug administration to manage the sudden onset of symptoms, such as seizures, agitation and dyspnoea, and for breakthrough pain management. The buccal route is a minimally invasive method that delivers fast symptom relief and is useful for those with swallowing impairment or reduced enteral absorption.
AIM: This paper reports on a small retrospective study involving 26 CYP who received end-of-life care between January and December 2017 to review the advantages and disadvantages of using buccal opioids for breakthrough pain relief with a focus on diamorphine as the preferred opioid.
METHOD: A retrospective case note review.
FINDINGS: This paper shares the clinical practice experiences from one UK organisation of care for CYP at the end of their lives and contributes to the growing body of pharmacological evidence.
CONCLUSION: Buccal opioids, specifically buccal diamorphine, are an effective strategy to treat breakthrough pain or dyspnoea in CYP.
BACKGROUND: Pain and opioid management are core ambulatory palliative care skills. Existing literature on how to manage opioid misuse/use disorder excludes patients found in palliative care settings, such as individuals with serious illness or those at the end of life.
OBJECTIVES: We conducted an exploratory study to: (1) Identify the challenges palliative care clinicians face when prescribing opioids in ambulatory settings and (2) explore factors that affect opioid decision-making.
METHODS: We recruited palliative care clinicians who prescribe opioids in ambulatory settings, which included open-ended questions and was conducted online. Results were analyzed qualitatively using a content analysis-based approach.
RESULTS: Eighty-three palliative care clinicians (mostly MDs/DOs) participated. Challenges faced when prescribing opioids included clinician differences in approach to care (eg, transitioning from another clinician with more permissive opioid prescribing), medication access (eg, inadequate pharmacy supply), resource constraints (eg, access to mental health and addiction expertise), managing problems outside the typical palliative care scope (eg addiction). Participants also discussed factors that influenced their opioid prescribing decisions, such as opioid-related harms and risks that they need to weigh; they also spoke about the necessity of considering other factors like the patient's environment, disease, treatment, and prognosis.
CONCLUSION: This study highlights the challenge of opioid management in patients with serious illness, particularly when misuse or substance use disorder is present, and suggests areas for future research focus. Our next step will be to establish consensus on approaches to opioid prescribing decision-making and policy in seriously ill patients presenting to ambulatory palliative care.
My essay 'Weakening the ethical distinction between euthanasia, palliative opioid use and palliative sedation' has recently generated some critique which I will attempt to address in this response. Regarding the empirical question of whether palliative opioid and sedative use shorten survival time, Schofield et al raise the three concerns that my literature review contains a cherry-picking bias through focusing solely on the palliative care population, that continuous deep palliative sedation falls beyond the scope of routine palliative care, and that my research may contribute to opiophobia and be harmful to palliative care provision globally. Materstvedt argues that euthanasia 'ends' rather than 'relieves' suffering and is not a treatment, and that the arguments in my essay are therefore predicated on a 'category mistake' and are a non-starter. Symons and Giebel both raise the concern that my Kantian and Millian interpretation of the Doctrine of Double Effect is anachronistic, and that when interpreted from the contemporaneous perspective of Aquinas it is a sound ethical principle. Giebel also argues that palliative opioid and sedative use do meet the Doctrine of Double Effect's four criteria on this Thomistic account, and that it does not contradict the Doctrine of the Sanctity of Human Life. In this response I will explore and defend against most of these claims, in doing so clarifying my original argument that the empirical and ethical differences between palliative opioid/sedative use and euthanasia may not be as significant as often believed, thereby advancing the case for euthanasia.
Background: Multimorbidity and pain are both common among older adults, yet pain treatment strategies for older patients with multimorbidity have not been well characterized.
Objectives: To assess the prevalence and relationship between multimorbidity and opioid prescribing in hospitalized older medical patients with pain.
Methods: We collected demographic, morbidity, pain, and analgesic treatment data through structured review of the electronic medical records of a consecutive sample of 238 medical patients, aged =65 years admitted between November 2014 and May 2015 with moderate-to-severe pain by numerical pain rating scale (range 4–10). We used the Cumulative Illness Rating Scale for Geriatrics (CIRS-G) to assess multimorbidity and cumulative illness burden. We examined the relationship between morbidity measures and opioid prescribing at hospital discharge using multivariate regression analysis.
Results: The mean age was 75 ± 8 years, 57% were female and 50% were non-White. Mean CIRS-G total score was 17 ± 6, indicating high cumulative illness burden. Ninety-nine percent of patients had multimorbidity, defined as moderate-to-extremely severe morbidity in =2 organ systems. Sixty percent of patients received an opioid prescription at discharge. In multivariate analyses adjusted for age, race, and gender, patients with a discharge opioid prescription were significantly more likely to have higher cumulative illness burden and chronic pain.
Conclusion: Among older medical inpatients, multimorbidity was nearly universal, and patients with higher cumulative illness burden were more likely to receive a discharge opioid prescription. More studies of benefits and harms of analgesic treatments in older adults with multimorbidity are needed to guide clinical practice.
Background: Increasing the total opioid dose is the standard approach for managing uncontrolled cancer pain. Other than simply increasing the opioid dose, palliative care interventions are multidimensional and may improve pain control in the absence of opioid dose increase.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine the proportion of patients referred to our inpatient palliative care (IPC) team who achieved clinically improved pain (CIP) without opioid dose increase.
Design: We reviewed consecutive patients referred to our IPC team.
Setting/Subjects: Eligibility criteria included (1) taking opioid medication; (2) having =2 consecutive visits with the IPC team; and (3) an Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) pain score =4 at consultation.
Measurements: We assessed patient demographics and clinical variables, including cancer type, opioid prescription data (type, route, and oral morphine equivalent daily dose [MEDD]), presence of opioid rotation, psychological consultation, changes in adjuvant medications (e.g., corticosteroids; antiepileptics—gabapentin and pregabalin; benzodiazepines; and neuroleptics), and achievement of CIP.
Results: Of the 300 patients enrolled, CIP was achieved in 196 (65%) patients. Of CIP patients, 85 (43%) achieved CIP without an increase in MEDD. CIP without MEDD increase was associated with more adjuvant medication changes (p = 0.003), less opioid rotation (p = 0.005), and lower symptom distress scale of ESAS (p = 0.04).
Conclusions: Nearly half of the patients achieved CIP without MEDD increase, suggesting that the multidimensional palliative care intervention is effective in improving pain control in many opioid-tolerant patients without the need to increase the opioid dose.
CONTEXT: Chronic pain (CP) is a major concern in cancer survivors. Often underreported by patients, it is both under-assessed and undertreated by care providers.
OBJECTIVES: To assess CP prevalence and related treatment in cancer survivors five years after diagnosis; to identify factors associated with prescribing opioids among survivors with CP, focusing on access to palliative care (PC).
METHODS: In 2015-2016, we interviewed 4,174 French patients diagnosed with cancer five years previously. Combining patient and clinical reported outcomes together with medico-administrative data, we studied factors associated with Step II and Step III opioid prescription in cancer survivors with CP. We performed multinomial logistic regression adjusting for various covariates, including self-reported health status variables and inpatient PC.
RESULTS: Five years after cancer diagnosis, 63.5% of the respondents reported current chronic pain (CP) (i.e., pain = 3 months). Of these, 64.6% and 14.4% were prescribed at least one Step II or Step III opioid, respectively. Only 1.9% had had inpatient PC since diagnosis. After adjustment for age, gender, clinical and self-reported variables, we found that the latter were more likely to receive Step III opioids (adjusted Relative Risk ratio: 5.33; 95% CI: 1.15, 24.58).
CONCLUSIONS: This study showed a high prevalence of CP five years after cancer diagnosis. Step III opioids were underprescribed but positively associated with inpatient PC. PC access in France remains limited, especially among cancer survivors. Integrating PC in oncology is essential to provide the best cancer-related symptoms management.
As palliative care (PC) moves upstream in the course of serious illness and the development of drugs and their indications rapidly expand, PC providers must understand common drug indications and adverse effects to ensure safe and effective prescribing. Pharmacists, experts in the nuances of medication management, are valuable resources and colleagues for PC providers. This article will offer PC providers 10 useful clinical pharmacy tips that PC pharmacists think all PC providers should know for safe and effective symptom management. Close collaboration with or addition of a trained pharmacist to your PC team can improve clinical care for all PC patients.
Background: Black cancer patients experience pain. Barriers to opioid medications for pain may include geographic factors. This study examines neighborhood factors associated with difficulties receiving prescription opioids from pharmacies for black cancer patients.
Design: A secondary data analysis of a study on opioid adherence was used to examine neighborhood-level and individual factors related to difficulties filling prescriptions for opioids.
Setting/Subjects: Patients being treated for cancer pain with opioids (n = 104) were recruited. All self-identified as black, were 21 years or older, had cancer diagnoses, and had been prescribed extended release opioids.
Measurements: A seven-item survey to identify problems filling opioids was completed by 98 participants along with a nine-item scale to assess perceived neighborhood characteristics. Scales of neighborhood amenities and neglect were created from the perceived neighborhood characteristics scale using principal components analysis. The 2009–2013 American Community Survey data were used to estimate the census tract percentage of non-Hispanic black residents, residents =25 years of age without a high school degree or equivalent, and households earning below the federal poverty level within the past 12 months.
Results: Nearly 51% reported problems getting their opioids filled: 28% had to wait days and 24% had to return to the pharmacy multiple times. The main theme identified in analysis of an open-ended question was pharmacies not stocking medication. Neighborhood locations that rated higher on the amenities scale were protective for pharmacies sufficiently stocking opioids.
Conclusions: Additional research on pharmacies sufficiently stocking opioid pain and neighborhood perceptions is warranted.
Opioids are often the foundation of pain management in seriously ill patients. Unfortunately, even experienced providers carry with them information that they consider "fact", when this information is not based on scientific evidence, but on "myth". Several topics were elicited based on common beliefs and misconceptions in clinical practice. These were identified via a survey of pharmacist pain and palliative care providers. Pearls from these topics were chosen that were based on evidence and would have the greatest bearing on clinical practice. The pearls address topics such as not using opioids as first-line analgesics for all types of pain, opioid-induced hyperalgesia, opioid risk management in cancer patients, use of buprenorphine in hospice and palliative care settings and use of naloxone in seriously ill patients. The pearls are supported by clinical evidence extracted from several references. They are intended to make readers give thought to opioid therapy which is strictly evidence-based, and not historical or anecdote-based. Practical recommendations are provided to give readers a starting point to base clinical decisions going forward. Readers may discover that "facts" they once learned about opioid use in seriously ill patients are actually "myths" that are a figment of the past.
Objectives: To explore pharmacists’ perspectives on practice, availability, and barriers related to opioids.
Methods: This cross-sectional study evaluated pharmacists’ perspectives on practice, availability, and barriers related to opioids. Electronic surveys were distributed to pharmacists practicing in Georgia via Survey Monkey. The 2 or Fisher Exact test was used to test differences in practice, availability, and barriers with respect to type of pharmacy and location of pharmacy.
Results: Most participating pharmacists practiced in an independent (47%) or community chain pharmacies (37%). The majority checked the Prescription Drug-Monitoring Program (PDMP) on a regular basis (73%), and about a third reported contacting the prescriber prior to dispensing. The most common barrier included concerns about diversion (82%) and illicit use (90%). About two-thirds reported experiencing a shortage of opioids. Significant differences (P < .05) were found between types of pharmacy in dispensing practices, availability, and barriers. No significant differences were found with respect to pharmacy location.
Conclusion: Findings suggest that pharmacists are facing challenges in availability of opioids and are employing stewardship approaches to optimize dispensing practices. This research provides insight regarding broken links in the “pain relief chain” and identifies opportunities to improve the accessibility of opioids when medically indicated. Pharmacists can play an important role in addressing the opioid crisis as well as providing quality care to patients with cancer seeking pain relief.
The problem of opioid diversion and its contribution to the opioid epidemic are well known nationally, existing even within hospice care. Proper disposal of opioids may be a critical factor in reducing diversion. In 2014, Ohio implemented legislation requiring a hospice employee to destroy or witness disposal of all unused opioids within a patient’s plan of care. The purpose of this study was to determine the impact of Ohio Revised Code 3712.062 on hospice programs’ policies and procedures to prevent opioid diversion in the home. Directors of Ohio-licensed hospices were surveyed to assess the percentage of programs with a written policy in place for disposal of opioids and to calculate a compliance score based on responses to survey questions assessing compliance with legislation components. Fifty-two surveys were completed (39.4%). All survey respondents reported having a written policy in place. A 95.5% average compliance score was calculated, with the largest disparity occurring with timing of opioid disposal. While Ohio Revised Code 3712.062 requires opioid disposal at the time of patient’s death or when no longer needed by the patient, only 84% of respondents report disposing opioids upon discontinuation. Overall, a high compliance rate was seen among hospice programs indicating such regulation is manageable to meet.
In palliative care, opioids and other controlled drugs are among the most commonly used and important medications. Opioids are associated with significant risk of dependence and misuse. In many developed countries, there is an epidemic of prescription opioid misuse and overdose deaths. Palliative care has a critical role educating patients about the safe use of opioids, providing universal screening and close monitoring, and prescribing opioids appropriately balancing the risks and benefits. This is particularly important in the era of early palliative care, when patients have much longer survival and potentially greater risk of misuse while on chronic opioid therapy. Here, we provided a critical appraisal of opioid use in the context of opioid crisis and early palliative care. We also present a pragmatic 10-step approach for the judicious use of opioids.