Physicians should recognize that occasionally patients may use non-prescribed substances because they have not obtained sufficient relief on the prescribed regime.
Although drug screens done for chronic pain management should not be routinely available to employers, as screens are part of the treatment record to which employers have limited access, patients should be aware that employers might obtain the records through attorneys or the insurer.
Use limited to two oral opioids: a long-acting opioid for maintenance of pain relief and a short-acting opioid for limited rescue use when pain exceeds the routine level. If more than two opioids are being considered for long-term use, a second opinion from specialist who is Board Certified in Addiction, or Pain Medicine is strongly recommended. Short-acting “rescue” medications should be used with caution in patients with a potential for abuse (Chou, R, Fanciullo, 2009). Buccal-delivered medications should not be used in this population. Transdermal medication use is generally not recomended.
Use of acetaminophen-containing medications in patients with liver disease should be limited, including over the counter medications. Acetaminophen dose should not exceed 4 grams per day for short-term use or 250 mg/day for long-term use in healthy patients (Washington State AMDG, 2010). A safer chronic dose may be 1800mg/day.
Continuing review of overall therapy plan with regard to non opioid means of pain control and functional status.
Monitoring of behavior for signs of possible substance abuse indicating an increased risk for addiction and possible need for consultation with an addiction specialist
Tapering of opioids may be necessary due to the development of hyperalgesia, decreased effects from an opioid, lack of compliance with the opioid contract, or intolerance of side effects. Some patients appear to experience allodynia or hyperalgesia on chronic opioids. This premise is supported by a study of normal volunteers who received opioid infusions and demonstrated an increase in secondary hyperalgesia (NOUGG, 2010). This is thought to be relatively uncommon and more frequently associated with methadone. Options for treating this include withdrawing the patient from opioids and reassessing their condition. In some cases the patient will improve when off of the opioid. In other cases another opioid may be substituted (Chou R, Fanciullo, 2009; Fishbain D 2009; Quigley C [Cochrane] 2004).
Inpatient treatment may be required for addiction or opioid tapering in complex cases. Refer to Section F.6, Interdisciplinary Rehabilitation Programs for detailed information on inpatient criteria.
Relative Contraindications – Extreme caution should be used in prescribing controlled substances for workers with one or more “relative contraindications”: Consultation with a pain or addiction specialist may be useful in these cases.
History of alcohol or other substance abuse, or a history of chronic, benzodiazepine use
Sleep apnea – if patient has symptoms of sleep apnea diagnostic tests should be pursued prior to chronic opioid use.
Off work for more than six months with minimal improvement in function from other active therapy.
Severe personality disorder or other known severe psychiatric disease.
General Contraindications (Ballantyne JC 2007; Edlund M, Steffick, 2007; Edlund M, Sullivan, 2007; Webster L 2010): The following are high risk warning signs for possible drug abuse or addiction. Patients with these findings should have a consultation by a pain and or addiction specialist.
Active alcohol or other substance abuse.
Untreated mood or psychotic disorders (e.g., depression).
Decreased physical or mental function with continued opioid use.
Addictive behaviors. Warning signs include but are not limited to:
1) Preoccupation with drugs;
2) Refusal to participate in medication taper;
3) Reporting that nothing but a specific opioid works;
4) Strong preference for short-acting over long-acting opioids;
5) Use of multiple prescribers and pharmacies;
6) Use of street drugs or other patient’s drugs;
7) Not taking medications as prescribed;
8) Loss of medications more than once; and/or
9) Criminal behaviors to obtain drugs, i.e., forged prescriptions.
Dosing and Time to Therapeutic Effect – Oral route is the preferred route of analgesic administration because it is the most convenient and cost-effective method of administration. Transbuccal administration should be avoided. When patient’s dosage exceeds 120 mg of morphine per day and/or the patient is sedentary with minimal function, consideration should be given to lowering the dosage. Consultation may be necessary. When patients cannot take medications orally, rectal and transdermal routes should be considered because they are also relatively noninvasive. However, careful consideration should be given to the possible abuse potential of these forms of administration.
Major Side Effects – There is great individual variation in susceptibility to opioid-induced side effects and clinicians should monitor for these potential side effects. Common initial side-effects include nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, unsteadiness, and confusion. Occasional side-effects include dry mouth, sweating, pruritus, hallucinations, and myoclonus. Rare side effects include respiratory depression and psychological dependence. Constipation and nausea/vomiting are common problems associated with long-term opioid administration and should be anticipated, treated prophylactically, and monitored constantly. Stool softeners, laxatives and increased dietary fluid may be prescribed. Chronic sustained release opioid use is associated with decreased testosterone in males and females and estradiol in pre-menopausal females. Patients should be asked about changes in libido, sexual function, and fatigue (Rhodin A 2010; Chou R, Fanciullo, 2009).
Sedation - Driving and other tasks – Although some studies have shown that patients on chronic opioids do not function worse than patients not on medication, caution should be exerted and patients should be counseled never to mix opioids with the use of alcohol or other sedating medication. When medication is increased or trials are begun patients should not drive for at least 5 days (Chou R, Fanciullo, 2009; NOUGG, 2010; “painedu.org”, 2010). Chronic untreated pain and disordered sleep can also impair driving abilities.
Drug Interactions – Patients receiving opioid agonists should not be given a mixed agonist-antagonist such as (pentazocine (Talacen, Talwin),butorphanol (Stadol) because doing so may precipitate a withdrawal syndrome and increase pain.
All sedating medication, especially benzodiazepines should be avoided or limited to very low doses. Over the counter medications such as antihistamines, diphenhydramine, and prescription medications such as hydroxyzine (Anx, Atarax, Atazine, Hypam, Rezine, Vistaril) should be avoided. Alcohol should not be used.
Recommended Laboratory Monitoring– Primary laboratory monitoring is recommended for acetaminophen/aspirin/NSAIDs combinations (renal and liver function, blood dyscrasias), although combination opioids are not recommended for long-term use. Morphine and other medication may require renal testing and other screening.
Sleep Apnea Testing- Both obstructive and central sleep apnea is likely to be exaggerated by opioid use or may occur secondary to higher dose chronic opioid use and combination medication use, especially benzodiazepines and sedative hypnotics. Patients should be questioned about sleep disturbance and family members or sleeping partners questioned about loud snoring or gasping during sleep. If present, qualified sleep studies and sleep medicine consultation should be obtained. Portable sleep monitoring units are generally not acceptable for diagnosing primary central sleep apnea. Type 3 portable units with 2 airflow samples and a 02 saturation device may be useful for monitoring respirator depression secondary to opioids although there are no studies on this topic (Mason: Murray and Nadel’s, 2010)
Regular consultation of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) – Physicians should review their patient on the system whenever drug screens are done. This information should be used in combination with the drug screening results, functional status of the patient and other laboratory findings to review the need for treatment and level of treatment appropriate for the patient. There is a separate billing code created by the DOWC to cover this service. Refer to Rule 18, Medical Fee Schedule.
Addiction – If addiction occurs, patients may require treatment, Refer to treatment section. After detoxification they may need long-term treatment with naltrexone (Depade, ReVia), an antagonist which can be administered in a long-acting form or buprenorphine which requires specific education per the DEA.
Potentiating Agents – There is some evidence that dextromethorphan does not potentiate the effect of morphine opioids and therefore is not recommended to be used with opioids (Galer B 2005).
Skeletal Muscle Relaxants: are most useful for acute musculoskeletal injury or exacerbation of injury. Chronic use of benzodiazepines or any muscle relaxant is not recommended due to their habit-forming potential, seizure risk following abrupt withdrawal, and documented contribution to deaths of patients on chronic opioids due to respiratory depression.
Description – May be effective due to stimulation of Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) receptors.
Indications – Pain from muscle rigidity. As of the time of this guideline writing, formulations of baclofen injection have been FDA approved for the management of severe spasticity of a spinal cord or cerebral origin.
Side Effects – exacerbation of psychotic disorders, may precipitate seizures in epileptics, dry mouth, and sexual dysfunction.
Recommended Laboratory Monitoring – Renal and hepatic function.
Cyclobenzaprine (Amrix, Fexmid, Flexeril).
Description – Structurally related to tricyclics.
Indications – Acute or exacerbated chronic pain associated with muscle spasm. As of the time of this guideline writing, formulations of this drug are FDA approved as an adjunct to rest and physical therapy for relief of muscle spasm associated with acute, painful musculoskeletal conditions. It should only be used for short periods (2 to 3 weeks) because of lack of evidence for effectiveness with prolonged use.
Major Contraindications – Cardiac dysrhythmias
Dosing and Time to Therapeutic Effect – Variable, onset of action is 1 hour.
Major Side Effects – Sedation, anticholinergic, blurred vision. Patients should also be monitored for suicidal ideation and drug abuse.
Drug Interactions – Contraindicated for use with MAO inhibitors; interacts with tramadol, duloxetine, escitalopram, and fluoxetine. Likely interactions with other ssri’s and snri’s drug interactions are similar to those for tricyclics. Refer also to tricyclics.
Recommended Laboratory Monitoring – Hepatic and renal function.
Carisoprodol (Soma, Soprodal, Vanadom). This medication should not be used in chronic pain patients due to its addictive nature secondary to the active metabolite meprobamate (NOUGG, 2010).
Description – Central acting muscle relaxant.
Indications – Muscle spasm. As of the time of this guideline writing, formulations of metaxalone have been FDA approved as an adjunct to rest, physical therapy and other measures for the relief of discomforts associated with acute, painful musculoskeletal conditions.
Major Contraindications – significantly impaired renal or hepatic disease, pregnancy, and disposition to drug induced hemolytic anemia.
Dosing and Time to Therapeutic Effect – Onset of action 1 hour.
Major Side Effects – sedation, hematologic abnormalities
Drug Interactions – other sedating drugs (e.g. opioids, benzodiazepines)
Recommended Laboratory Monitoring – Hepatic Function, CBC
Description – Alpha 2 adrenergic agonist.
Indications – Spasticity, musculoskeletal disorders. As of the time of this guideline writing, formulations of tizanidine have been FDA approved for the management of spasticity.
Major Contraindications – Concurrent use with ciprofloxacin (Cipro, Proquin) or fluvoxamine (Luvox); or hepatic disease.
Dosing and Time to Therapeutic Effect – 4 mg/day orally and gradually increase in 2-4 mg increments on an individual basis over 2 to 4 weeks; maintenance, 8 mg orally every 6 to 8 hr (max dose 36 mg/day).
Major Side Effects – Hypotension, sedation, hepatotoxicity, hallucinations and psychosis, dry mouth.
Drug Interactions – Alcohol can increase sedation, concurrent use with ciprofloxacin or fluvoxamine contraindicated. Several other medications increase tizanidine plasma concentrations (e.g. oral contraceptives, verapamil, and cimetidine). Use with caution with other alpha agonists, and other antihypertensives as they may increase the risk of hypotension.
Laboratory Monitoring – Hepatic function, blood pressure.
Topical Drug Delivery:
Description – Topical medications, such as lidocaine and capsaicin, may be an alternative treatment for neuropathic disorders and is an acceptable form of treatment in selected patients.
Indications – Neuropathic pain for most agents. Episodic use of NSAIDs and salicylates for joint pain. Patient selection must be rigorous to select those patients with the highest probability of compliance. Many patients do not tolerate the side effects for some medication or the need for frequent application.
Dosing and Time to Therapeutic Effect – All topical agents should be prescribed with strict instructions for application and maximum number of applications per day to obtain the desired benefit and avoid potential toxicity. There is no evidence that topical agents are more or less effective than oral medications. For most patients, the effects of long-term use are unknown and thus may be better used episodically.
Side Effects – Localized skin reactions may occur, depending on the medication agent used.
a) Capsaicin –As of the time of this guideline writing, formulations of capsaicin have been FDA approved for management of pain associated with post-herpetic neuralgia. Capsaicin offers a safe and effective alternative to systemic NSAID therapy. Although it is quite safe, effective use of capsaicin is limited by the local stinging or burning sensation that typically dissipates with regular use, usually after the first 7 to 10 days of treatment. Patients should be advised to apply the cream on the affected area with a plastic glove or cotton applicator and to avoid inadvertent contact with eyes and mucous membranes.
There is good evidence that low dose capsaicin (0.075%) applied 4 times per day will decrease pain up to 50% (Derry S [Cochrane] 2009). There is also good evidence that a high dose (8%) capsaicin patch applied for 60 minutes can decrease post herpetic neuralgic pain for 3 months and thus may be useful in other chronic neuropathies (Derry S [Cochrane] 2009; Webster, 2010). The high dose patch is preceded by the application of a lidocaine patch and many patients require a schedule II opioid immediately after the treatment (Webster LR 2010).
b) Ketamine and Tricyclics – Topical medications, such as the combination of ketamine and amitriptyline have been proposed as an alternative treatment for neuropathic disorders including CRPS. A study using a 10% concentration showed no signs of systemic absorption (Finch P 2009). This low-quality study demonstrated decreased allodynia at 30 minutes for some CRPS patients. However, as of the time of this guideline writing, neither tricyclic nor ketamine topicals are FDA approved for topical use in neuropathic pain. Furthermore, there is good evidence that neither 2% topical amitriptyline nor 1% topical ketamine reduces neuropathic pain syndromes (Lynch M 2005). Low dose topical ketamine and topical amitriptyline are not recommended to be used in patients with neuropathic pain syndromes, including CRPS. Physiologically, it is possible that topical tricyclics and a higher dose of ketamine could have some effect on neuropathic pain. The use of topical tricyclics and/or ketamine should be limited to patients with neuritic and/or sympathetically mediated pain with documented supporting objective findings such as allodynia and/or hyperalgesia. Continued use of these agents beyond the initial prescription requires documentation of effectiveness, including functional improvement, and/or decreased use of other medications, particularly decreased use of opiates or other habituating medications.
c) Lidocaine – As of the time of this guideline writing formulations of lidocaine (patch form) have been FDA approved for pain associated with post-herpetic neuralgia. Evidence is mixed for long-term use of lidocaine topically. Physicians should always take into account the blood level that may be achieved with topical use as toxic levels have been reported (Khaliq W 2007). There is some evidence that a 5% lidocaine patch may be used as a secondary option for patients with focal neuropathic pain (Meier T 2003). A 30 to 50% pain reduction may be achieved in those who tolerate the patch (Meier T 2003). Up to three patches may be used simultaneously for twelve hours per day. It should be applied only to intact skin. Metered dose 8% pump sprays have also been used and usually require a three times per day reapplication. There is some evidence that the 8% sprays are effective for short-term, 2 week use (Kanai A 2009). However, the effects of long-term use are unknown.
d) Topical Salicylates and Nonsalicylates –have been shown to be effective in relieving pain in acute musculoskeletal conditions and single joint osteoarthritis. Topical salicylate and nonsalicylates achieve tissue levels that are potentially therapeutic, at least with regard to COX inhibition. Other than local skin reactions, the side effects of therapy are minimal, although not non-existent and the usual contraindications to use of these compounds needs to be considered. Local skin reactions are rare and systemic effects were even less common. Their use in patients receiving warfarin therapy may result in alterations in bleeding time. Overall, the low level of systemic absorption can be advantageous; allowing the topical use of these medications when systemic administration is relatively contraindicated such as is the case in patients with hypertension, cardiac failure, or renal insufficiency (DOWC [Cumulative Trauma MTG], 2010). There is good evidence that diclofenac gel (Voltaren, Solaraze) reduces pain and improves function in mild-to-moderate hand osteoarthritis (Altman R 2009). Diclofenac gel has been FDA approved for acute pain due to minor strains, pains, and contusions; and for relief of pain due to osteoarthritis of the joints amenable to topical treatment, such as those of the knees and hands (DOWC [Cumulative Trauma MTG], 2010).
d) Other Compounded Topical Agents: At the time this guideline was written, no studies identified evidence for the effectiveness of compounded topical agents other than those recommended above. Therefore, other compounded topical agents are not generally recommended. In rare cases they may be appropriate for patients who prefer a topical medication to chronic opioids or have allergies or side effects from other more commonly used oral agents.
f) Prior authorization is required for all agents that have not been recommended above. Continued use requires documentation of effectiveness including functional improvement and/or decrease in other medications.
Description – An opioid partial agonist that does not cause GI ulceration, or exacerbate hypertension or congestive heart failure. It also inhibits the reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin which may contribute to its pain relief mechanism. Side effects similar to opioid opioid side effects and may limit its use. They include nausea, sedation and dry mouth.
Indications – Mild to moderate pain relief. As of the time of this guideline writing, formulations of tramadol has been FDA approved for management of moderate to moderately severe pain in adults. This drug has been shown to provide pain relief equivalent to that of commonly prescribed NSAIDs (Duehmke RM [Cochrane], 2006). There is some evidence that it alleviates neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury (Norrbrink C 2009). However, given the effectiveness of other drug classes for neuropathic pain tramadol, should not be considered a first line medication. It may be useful for patients who cannot tolerate tricyclic antidepressants.
Contraindications – Use cautiously in patients who have a history of seizures or who are taking medication that may lower the seizure threshold, such as MAO inhibitors, SSRIs, and TCAs. Not recommended in those with prior opioid addiction. Has been associated with deaths in those with an emotional disturbance or concurrent use of alcohol or other opioids. Significant renal and hepatic dysfunction requires dosage adjustment.
Side Effects – May cause impaired alertness or nausea. This medication has physically addictive properties and withdrawal may follow abrupt discontinuation.
Drug Interactions –Opioids, sedating medications, any drug that affects serotonin and/or norepinephrine (e.g. SNRI’S, SSRI’S, MAOI’S, and TCA’S).
Laboratory Monitoring – Renal and hepatic function.
There is good evidence that glucosamine does not improve pain related disability in those with chronic low back pain and degenerative changes on radiologic studies, therefore it is not recommended for chronic lower spinal or non-joint pain (Wilkens P 2010). For chronic pain related to joint osteoarthritis see specific extremity guidelines. Glucosamine should not be combined with chondroitin as it is ineffective.
ORTHOTICS/PROSTHETICS/EQUIPMENT Devices and adaptive equipment may be necessary in order to reduce impairment and disability, to facilitate medical recovery, to avoid re-aggravation of the injury, and to maintain maximum medical improvement. Indications would be to provide relief of the industrial injury, prevent further injury and control neurological and orthopedic injuries for reduced stress during functional activities. In addition, they may be used to modify tasks through instruction in the use of a device or physical modification of a device. Equipment needs may need to be reassessed periodically. Refer to F.12, Return-to-work for more detailed information.
Equipment may include high and low technology assistive devices, computer interface or seating, crutch or walker training, and self-care aids. It should improve safety and reduce risk of re-injury. Standard equipment to alleviate the effects of the injury on the performance of activities of daily living may vary from simple to complex adaptive devices to enhance independence and safety. Certain equipment related to cognitive impairments may also be required.
Ergonomic modifications may be necessary to facilitate medical recovery, to avoid re-aggravation of the injury, and to maintain maximum medical improvement. Ergonomic evaluations with subsequent recommendations may assist with the patients’ return-to-work. (Refer to Section E.6, Jobsite Evaluation for further information.)
For chronic pain disorders, equipment such as foot orthoses may be helpful. The injured worker should be educated as to the potential harm from using a lumbar support for a period of time greater than which is prescribed. Harmful effects include de-conditioning of the trunk musculature, skin irritation, and general discomfort. Use of cervical collars is not recommended for chronic cervical myofascial pain. Special cervical orthosis and/or equipment may have a role in the rehabilitation of a cervical injury such as those injuries to a cervical nerve root resulting in upper extremity weakness or a spinal cord injury with some degree of paraparesis or tetraparesis. Use of such devices would be in a structured rehabilitation setting as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program.
Fabrication/modification of orthotics, including splints, would be used when there is need to normalize weight-bearing, facilitate better motion response, stabilize a joint with insufficient muscle or proprioceptive/reflex competencies, to protect subacute conditions as needed during movement, and correct biomechanical problems. Orthotic/prosthetic training is the skilled instruction (preferably by qualified providers) in the proper use of orthotic devices and/or prosthetic limbs.
For information regarding specific types of orthotics/prosthetics/equipment, refer to individual medical treatment guidelines.