17 August 2010

The most obnoxious email my hand surgeon has ever received

I managed to badly break my thumb during judo last week. I'm having surgery to repair it this Friday. After spending all this time learning about pain/pain medicine, I've learned just enough about drugs to be dangerous. Today, that danger has manifested in what I'm guessing is the most obnoxious email my hand surgeon has ever received from a patient.

For your enjoyment:

Dear [Dr's assistant],

....The pharmacy has a prescription of Darvocet for me. But, I'd actually like to avoid both the propoxyphene and APAP in Darvocet. I'd appreciate it if you could ask Dr. xxxxxx to cancel that prescription and write me one for something different. He might find the following useful:

The Vicodin prescription [which I had been written for the initial pain of the injury] worked fine. Still, I had forgotten that there is some evidence of an interaction between acetaminophen and xxxxxx. See, for example, [3]. So I'd prefer something without APAP. It's not a big deal, but I'd prefer to keep on the safe side.

I'd prefer to avoid anything containing propoxyphene for two reasons. First, it's somewhat contraindicated with xxxxxxx (propoxyphene can potentiate the xxxxxxxxxx). Second, there are some concerns about its cardiotoxic metabolites. See [1] and [2]. I know it's a tiny risk. But, again, I'd prefer to stay on the safe side wherever possible.

To make things just a bit more complicated: I don't think anything with straight codeine will be very useful. I'm fairly certain that both my mother and my sister are poor metabolizes, so I don't want to trust my CYP2D6's any more than I have to. Moreover, according to Cochrane Reviews [7], with a NNT=12, codeine just doesn't seem very trustworthy.

Finally, just in case this is relevant, I'd prefer to use the narcotics to hit the acute pain hard for 1-2 days and then get off of them as quickly as possible. There seems to be evidence that early aggressive treatment helps cut the overall duration of post surgical pain and, more important to me, reduce the risk of chronic pain (see, e.g., [4], [5], [6], [8]). Thus I'd prefer very few doses of something strong to more of something weaker.

These are just some very weak preferences based on my rudimentary understanding of pain management protocols. I trust your judgment completely.


[1] http://www.citizen.org/publications/publicationredirect.cfm?ID=7420


[3] Miners JO, Attwood J, Birkett DJ. Determinants of acetaminophen metabolism: effect of inducers and inhibitors of drug metabolism on acetaminophen's metabolic pathways. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1984; 35:480-486.

[4] Leibeskind, J. C. (1991). "Pain Can Kill." Pain 44: 3-4.

[5] Merskey, H. (1999). Pain and Psychological Medicine. Textbook of Pain. P. D. Wall and R. Melzack. Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone: 929-949.

[6] Harman, K. (2000). "Neuroplasticitiy and the Development of Chronic Pain." Physiotherapy Canada 52(64-71).

[7] Derry, S., R. A. Moore, et al. (2010) "Single dose oral codeine, as a single agent, for acute postoperative pain in adults." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008099.pub2.

[8] Kehlet, H., T. S. Jensen, et al. (2006). "Persistent postsurgical pain: risk factors and prevention." Lancet 367(9522): 1618-1625.
Acute postoperative pain is followed by persistent pain in 10-50% of individuals after common operations, such as groin hernia repair, breast and thoracic surgery, leg amputation, and coronary artery bypass surgery. Since chronic pain can be severe in about 2-10% of these patients, persistent postsurgical pain represents a major, largely unrecognised clinical problem. Iatrogenic neuropathic pain is probably the most important cause of long-term postsurgical pain. Consequently, surgical techniques that avoid nerve damage should be applied whenever possible. Also, the effect of aggressive, early therapy for postoperative pain should be investigated, since the intensity of acute postoperative pain correlates with the risk of developing a persistent pain state. Finally, the role of genetic factors should be studied, since only a proportion of patients with intraoperative nerve damage develop chronic pain. Based on information about the molecular mechanisms that affect changes to the peripheral and central nervous system in neuropathic pain, several opportunities exist for multimodal pharmacological intervention. Here, we outline strategies for identification of patients at risk and for prevention and possible treatment of this important entity of chronic pain.