Monday, February 20, 2017

Narrative Does Matter: Self-Guided Opioid Weaning

Perhaps it's obvious.  I write blog posts with regularity, I consume news voraciously, and I've never met a microphone I didn't enjoy speaking into.  But in the event it's not readily apparent, I'm happy to share that the single most important concept in contemporary communications is this: narrative.

"Narrative" is occasionally used as an epithet in political discourse (as in "you're just choosing facts that fit your narrative") and I'm as concerned as anyone else about the balkanization of modern media (which I describe as "choose your own narrative"), but the power of well-told stories to shape, change, or at least influence thinking is undeniable.  We live in a world of competing narratives and while the ability to identify such is critical, the ability to create such can be transformative.

Health Affairs understands this.  Whenever I get a new issue, I typically flip directly to my favorite section: "Narrative Matters."  Here, public health workers on the front lines share stories of what it means when platitudes turn into policy.  It's one thing to talk in the abstract about the CDC's Ebola response... it's quite another to listen to a doctor tell the story of running an Ebola clinic in Liberia.

This month's issue contains another in a long line of compelling stories, though this one hits close to home for those of us fighting to stem the tide of prescription drug misuse and abuse.  The story comes to us from Travis Rieder, a research scholar at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.  His journey, despite his role at Hopkins, doesn't have anything to do with his role in public health.  Travis likes to ride motorcycles... and his story begins with a horrific motorcycle accident.

I won't retell the story (you really should read it for yourself), but to summarize: Travis ended up deeply dependent on opioid painkillers.  Knowing he needed to stop taking them, he initiated his own weaning protocol (that was, in retrospect, far too aggressive - even thought it was suggested by one of his doctors).  He lived in agony for days, then weeks.  But he stuck to his plan.  At one point, it got so bad, he contemplated suicide.

Where were his doctors, you ask?  He found the medical profession to be some combination of afraid, inept, reluctant... perhaps all of the above... to assist in the weaning of his opioids.  And this was a motivated patient, asking to be weaned.  A highly educated, white collar academic who was begging for help... and got none.  "How could it be that my doctor's best tapering advice led to that experience?" Travis asks, "And how could it be that not one of my more than ten doctors could help?"  And think: this story found its way to Health Affairs because Travis is a known author in the field of bioethics.  How many non-bioethicists out there are suffering in this same opioid purgatory?

As my colleague Mark Pew has written about extensively, we've arrived at the hard work cleaning up the mess.  He even created a hashtag for it (#cleanupthemess), not because we're trying to score marketing points, but because we needed an organizing principle for the combined and coordinated effort its going to take to accomplish our collective goal.

Travis's story highlights the fact that the clean up may be harder than we imagine.

Michael
On Twitter @PRIUM1


Monday, February 13, 2017

We're Skipping the Simple Steps in Chronic Pain Management

"Take deep breaths.  Drink lots of water.  Get some extra sleep."

This is the prescription I tend to apply, at least initially, to all complaints of illness emanating from my three children.  I find it's effective approximately 90% of the time.  For the 10% of the time it's not effective, we escalate to mom... and occasionally from there, we head to the doctor.  Nothing special here, just basic triage for childhood illness.  

The problem I see is that adults often skip a step or two (or three) in this process.  And there's a lot of scientific data to support the reliance on these initial steps in the management of chronic pain.

Take Deep Breaths
There's ample evidence to suggest that relaxation techniques and mindfulness exercises can significantly influence chronic pain management.  This study, among dozens of high quality studies available (and hundreds more of lower quality), showed a >50% decrease in Total Pain Rating Index for 50% of the patients involved in the study.  Granted, small sample... but really compelling results.  Why did I pick this study to highlight?  It was published in April 1982.  This isn't new, folks.
An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results.

Drink Lots of Water
The link between dehydration and chronic pain is a little more recent, but still compelling.  A recent study from the journal Psychophysiology linked hypohydration (not as severe as dehydration, but still not healthy... essentially, most of us are walking around hypohydrated) with lower pain sensitivity thresholds.  We also know that the discs in the lower back require proper hydration for optimal functionality.  Getting enough water also effects are immune system response.  We've been told since we were kids to drink lots of water, it's just that none of us actually do that.
A preliminary study on how hypohydration affects pain perception

Get Some Sleep
Sleep hygiene is among the most overlooked elements of chronic pain management.  This topic is admittedly made complicated by the 'chicken and egg' nature of problem - to manage chronic pain, one needs to get more sleep, but sleep is often inhibited by chronic pain symptoms.  This nasty cycle is often addressed by sleep aid medications which are not indicated for long term use (and, as we well know, that doesn't stop them from being used long term).  One way off of this hamster wheel is ensuring that relaxation and hydration are incorporated into daily habits.  Along with mindfulness techniques, one must also incorporate a simple set of sleep management tips that are hard for people to come to grips with: going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, no television or other electronic devices in the bedroom, no alcohol or caffeine assumption.  How many Americans, in chronic pain or not, can pull of that bedtime routine?
Pain & Sleep: Information from the National Sleep Foundation

No, not all chronic pain can be managed by taking deep breaths, drinking lots of water, and getting plenty of sleep.  Some chronic pain has to be escalated to the care of medical professionals and these patients deserve the best, evidence-based care available.  But far too often, chronic pain is diagnosed and immediately treated with surgery and/or medications without an attempt at patient self-regulation based on simple principles of mindfulness, proper diet, and good sleep hygiene - all three of which, when missing, significantly contribute, even exacerbate, chronic pain.

Take deep breaths.  Drinks lots of water.  Get some sleep.

Michael
On Twitter @PRIUM1

Monday, January 30, 2017

Chronic Pain: Do We Even Know What We Don't Know?

My wife is currently training to become a yoga instructor.  Our conversations have begun to revolve around concepts like "being present" and "finding my center."  I'm a somewhat reluctant participant in such conversations and even though I understand all of the individual words being used, I admit the concepts are largely lost on me.  One thing that has resonated with me, though, is the humility that one can derive by recognizing what one does not know.  We can start to develop more rational and realistic responses to life's problems when we step back and question the basis of our views.

Two studies caught my attention recently and reminded me of this important principle.  In the swirl of debate and conjecture surrounding contemporary approaches to pain management, I think it's critical for us to distinguish what we know and what we don't know.

First, from the joint efforts of radiology service provider Spreemo and the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), we learned that objective diagnoses for low back pain aren't as straightforward as one might think.  A single patient was sent to 10 different centers to get an MRI of the lower back.  Of the 49 distinct objective findings identified across the 10 centers, not a single finding was identified by all 10 centers.  The study points to a potential diagnostic error rate of up to 43%.  

Next, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we learned that opioids might actually prolong neuropathic pain.  The paper titled "Morphine paradoxically prolongs neuropathic pain in rats by amplifying spinal NLRP3 inflammasome activation" is a technical piece, to say the least and I won't claim to have comprehended all of it.  But here's a snippet from the conclusion of the paper that I did understand (mostly):

In summary, the mechanisms underlying the transition from acute to chronic pain are poorly understood. We discovered that a short course of morphine administered upon expression of neuropathic pain remarkably doubled the duration of CCI-allodynia. This process was dependent upon dorsal spinal microglial reactivity and NLRP3 inflammasomes. These findings comport with prior demonstrations that repeated immune challenges induce a transition from acute to chronic pain, which may also underpin pain comorbidities. An evaluation of the long-term consequences of opioid treatment for chronic pain will identify whether this phenomenon manifests clinically.

It's really astounding to think about how much we don't know when it comes to chronic pain.  For all the time we spend debating the use of opioids for the treatment of low back pain, it's both frightening and illuminating to realize we get the diagnosis wrong almost 50% of the time and the drugs we use to treat it might actually make it worse.  

Long way to go...

Michael
On Twitter @PRIUM1

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Mistakes That States Make

As 2017 gets rolling, state legislatures are convening all over the country.  Several of them are about to make mistakes in the area of medication management in workers' compensation.  

My colleague, Mark Pew, and I have written and spoken extensively on the topic of drug formularies. And we're currently working, formally and informally, with regulators and other stakeholders in jurisdictions across the country on approaches that make sense for employers, doctors, pharmacists, and, most importantly, injured workers.  While there's not a lot to be gained for any of us in calling out individual states, there's a great deal at stake for all of us in the successes and failures of drug formulary implementations.  A failure (perceived or real) in one jurisdiction can lead another jurisdiction to delay its own attempt at a formulary - or to scrap it altogether.

So how can we tell if a law or rule set is headed in the right direction?  Or, alternatively, if a state's efforts are more likely to lead to sub-optimal results?  Here's a quick litmus test that you can apply to make your own determination:

1) Will the formulary rely on independent, 3rd party medical treatment guidelines?  
There's a great deal of industry discussion surrounding this topic, mostly focused on the definition of 'evidence-based medicine.'  While that conversation is interesting, it's not the critical factor in overall formulary success.  The crucial questions are two-fold: First, will there be room for political influence in the formation of the guidelines? Second, will the guidelines be updated with sufficient frequency?  

2) Does the formulary process build off of existing dispute resolution processes?
States that have successfully implemented drug formularies thus far have done so by relying on existing rules regarding resolution of medical treatment disputes.  States that try to simultaneously create a formulary and new dispute resolution processes to support it are, in reality, trying to do two things at once.  Not impossible, but certainly creates execution risk. 

3) Does the formulary allow for a remediation period for legacy claims?
On the one hand, a single effective date creates chaos as employers and physicians try to figure out how to address legacy claims, which tend to be more complicated. On the other hand, only applying new rules to new injuries creates two standards of care within a workers’ compensation system, where an injured worker’s treatment plan is driven entirely by the date on which they were injured (which makes no clinical sense). I look for regulatory language that takes a balanced approach – an initial implementation date for new injuries, followed by a remediation period for legacy claims, followed by a fully effective date for new rules and all claims. 

4) Is the formulary process scalable?  
I always look to see if the dispute resolution process can stand up to a significant volume of cases. While the goal of any formulary adoption should be to streamline access to medically necessary medications for injured workers, states should take a 'hope for the best, plan for the worst' approach.  Dispute resolution processes that rely on one individual or one office for ultimate resolution may lead to bottlenecks and, in a worst case scenario, undue influence.  I always ask myself - what will this look like if there are more disputes than the state expects?  

One bad apple can spoil the bunch.  Let's get this right.

Michael
On Twitter @PRIUM1  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pain Acceptance: A Path Forward?

The world apparently needs more opioids, so the FDA approved another one yesterday.  Egalet Corporation's long-acting morphine formulation, Arymo ER, will hit the market here in the US before the close of Q1.  Interesting side note for those interested in the economic value of abuse-deterrence: Egalet stock initially shot up 27% on the approval news.  But when it became clear the Arymo label would only include abuse-deterrence language for dissolution and injection, but not for snorting or chewing it (because another abuse-deterrent opioid has rights to exclusivity for the particular claim), the stock dropped 16% yesterday and another 20% this morning.  By my calculations, that drop erased about $70 million in equity value.  And according to Yahoo Finance, 58% of the share are held by "insiders" (aka company executives) and one officer, Egalet CEO Robert Radie, holds nearly 50% of those insider shares.  So he's $20 million poorer this morning because he can't claim his new drug cannot be snorted or chewed.  If the mix of healthcare and high finance is a little nauseating to you, you're not alone.

In other pain management news, there's a really interesting study in this month's Journal of Pain Research regarding the relationship between "pain acceptance" and outcomes measures such as disability, mental health, and quality of life.  The study also relates this concept of "pain acceptance" to behaviors such as "pain catastrophizing," a phenomenon wherein a person "experiences exaggerated worrying and overestimation of the probability of unpleasant outcomes in response to pain." Notably, the study looks exclusively at a workers' compensation population.

Not surprisingly, higher "pain acceptance" scores were strongly correlated with less disability and greater mental and physical health.  "Pain catastrophizing" appeared to have the opposite effect - increased disability and poorer perceived health.  If you're wondering why you're hearing so much these days about cognitive behavioral therapy, this is why.

The study caused me to contemplate the broader picture of where we stand on the issues of chronic pain and opioid use.  We get lost in the statistics sometimes and fail to see the forest for the trees. Here's the real bottom line: the last quarter century has seen both an explosion in chronic pain and an explosion in opioid use.  The latter does not appear to be mitigating the former.  At all.

From another (highly clinical/technical) study that also crossed my desk last week from the Department of Palliative Care at Geisinger Medical Center, I drew this important insight: "Do not use pain intensity as the primary outcome in the management of chronic pain."  Sounds pretty simple.  But do we use, then?  Perhaps a greater focus on concepts like "pain acceptance" will help us break through the chronic pain conundrum.

Michael
On Twitter @PRIUM1


Monday, December 19, 2016

The Tobacco Playbook: Opioids Go Global

Remember when the full weight of federal and state governments, along with support from advocacy and public health groups, finally came crashing down on the heads of the tobacco industry?  Do you remember what the tobacco industry did?  They went global.  Today, 75% of the world's smokers live in developing countries. The growth of tobacco use in the developing world hinges on the lack of regulatory controls at each critical step in the value chain: manufacturing, distribution, marketing, retail sales, consumption - it's just easier to get people hooked in the developing world.

A refresher on an oft-quoted statistic: the US is less than 5% of the world's population, but we consume 80% of the world's opioid supply.  As regulatory scrutiny grows around opioid manufacturers, we might expect them to behave as the tobacco industry has over the last quarter century or more.  Imagine if, at some future date, 80% of opioids were consumed outside the US. Would you have the moral courage to resist that investment temptation?

From the great work of the LA Times, we know that's exactly the plan our old friends at Purdue Pharma (makers of Oxycontin) are carrying out.  Through an international subsidiary (with a different name, of course), Purdue is pursuing overseas markets with much the same strategy as they did the US market in the late 1990s (and we can count on a similar result: foul deeds will rise).  They pay medical "experts" to give seminars to doctors that suggest opioids should be used more for pain management, not less.  In one instance cited in the article, Purdue was paying Dr. Joseph Pergolizzi to give such seminars.  Dr. Pergolizzi appears to have some credentialing issues, though.  He claimed an affiliation with Temple University as well as my own alma mater, Georgetown University.  When challenged on those affiliations, he claimed he was having "paperwork issues" at Temple and was "in discussions" with Georgetown.  I was heartened by my alma mater's response: "We are not in discussions with that gentleman."  Good stuff.

Two key questions over the next decade:
1) Will the public health infrastructure in the US, having learned from its experience with Big Tobacco, get out ahead of this potential international opioid crisis and warn developing countries about the dangers they face?
2) Will those developing countries listen?

Michael
On Twitter @PRIUM1

PS: As this will be the last post of 2016 for Evidence Based, I thought I'd take a moment to let you in on a little secret.  This past year was the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (that's not a secret... hang with me a second...)  I have a great love of Shakespeare that was instilled in me by the greatest AP Lit teacher on planet Earth, Ross Friedman. He's retired now, but his love of language, culture, art, and great writing lives on in the thousands of students he taught through his career.

And that brings me to the secret of the Evidence Based blog in 2016: To honor The Great Bard (and my great teacher, Mr. Friedman), I have included an allusion to one of Shakespeare's plays or sonnets in every blog post I wrote in 2016 (above: "foul deeds will rise"is from Hamlet, Act I, Scene 2).  If you noticed, well then bonus points for you.  I had fun doing it and learned along the way that Shakespeare had something to say about everything... even healthcare, regulatory policy, and pharma companies.

Happy Holidays!  And thanks for reading!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Surveys Says? We Still Have a Long Way To Go On Opioids

Last week, I referred all of you to a piece by Dr. Stephen Martin wherein he offers a critique of the CDC opioid guidelines as well as the overall public health approach to opioid misuse and abuse. While I disagreed with most of his views, I thought the article represented the kind of informed dialogue in which we need to engage in order to move the public policy discussion forward (and I further suggested that our collective ability to engage in rational, data-driven debate will make us or mar us as a society). In the article, Dr. Martin sites a range of studies that put the risk of addiction to opioids somewhere between 2% and 10%.  He also suggests that the CDC's lack of focus on diversion - wherein lawful prescription drugs end up being 'diverted' from their intended purpose and routed into illegal drug trafficking - is a major issue.  He writes: "...the threat of addiction largely comes from diverted prescription opioids, not from long-term use with a skilled prescriber in a longitudinal clinical relationship."

Both those positions appear to be refuted by survey data collected by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation and published in the Post on Friday.

The Post and KFF surveyed 622 long term opioid users (defined as use for 2 months or longer) and 187 household members of long term opioid users.  The survey was taken over a roughly 5 week period from October 3 through November 9 and the overall results have a margin of sampling error of +/- 4 points.

We learn, among many other interesting things, that...

  • 34% of long-term opioid users say they are/were addicted or dependent on opioids
  • 54% of household members say the opioid user is/was addicted or dependent
  • Nearly all long-term users (95 percent) said that they began taking the drugs to relieve pain from surgery, an injury or a chronic condition. 
  • Just 3 percent said that they started as recreational users.
Further, the presumption of safety within a "longitudinal clinical relationship" is called into question by the fact that while the survey suggests a largely positive relationship between patients and doctors, only 33% of patients reported that their doctors discussed a plan for getting off of the medication at the onset of therapy.  That's a standard best practice... and two-thirds of doctors aren't doing it.  

Despite all of this data, the vast majority of survey respondents say these drugs have dramatically changed their lives for the better.  While their household members appear to have a different view, this highlights the difficult public health position in which we find ourselves. Benefits and risks aren't as clear cut as we wish they could be.  

Finally, I'm struck by staying power of the "100 million Americans in chronic pain" statistic.  The Post uses it here and it remains a pervasive data point for the justification of long term opioid use. But to steal a phrase from Dr. Martin himself (who stole it from Mencken), this statistic is "neat, plausible, and wrong." If we're going to have a debate about chronic pain, we have to start with the facts.  

Michael 
On Twitter @PRIUM1

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Confirmation Bias: A Critique of Opioid Guidelines

If you've bothered to keep track of the drama that's unfolded since the election last month (no one would blame if you haven't...), you've no doubt heard the phrase "confirmation bias."  We tend to seek out, the theory goes, news and information that confirms our current view of the world. Opposing views create cognitive dissonance, making us feel less sure about ourselves and forcing us to confront the possibility that we might be wrong (perish the thought). Confirmation bias is something we should all strive to avoid.  Whether its a citizen consuming political news, a fund manager picking a stock, or a GM signing a player... when we pick and choose our data set, we're more likely to make bad decisions.  

I suggest we take a similar approach in the fight against prescription drug misuse and abuse.  

If one truly believes that the best available research, data, studies, and thinking should guide our approach to this public health issue, then one cannot be offended by alternative points of view offered by those who share the same goal.  If one wants to solve the problem, one must consider the other side's view.  There may be more in Health Affairs and JAMA than is dreamt of in our philosophies.  And it's in understanding the critique of our position that we find the nuanced, balanced, and sustainable solutions required to mitigate prescription drug misuse and abuse.  

With this in mind, I recommend reading "Neat, Plausible, and Generally Wrong: A Response to the CDC Recommendations for Chronic Opioid Use" by Stephen Martin, MD, a practicing family physician in Massachusetts who treats chronic pain patients (in other words, the very target of the new CDC guidelines).  Dr. Martin lays out a case against the CDC guidelines that is well written, well researched, and likely to be not well received by readers of this blog.

And that's the point.  If we're going to make progress, let's engage with the sharpest and most well-reasoned points our critics have to offer.  Dr. Martin's arguments boil down to three main bones of contention: First, that the CDC is inappropriately conflating public health initiatives and individual treatment decisions.  Second, that with respect to studies regarding long term use of opioids for chronic pain, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."  And third, that opioids can be used safely, even over the long term, in the context of what Dr. Martin calls a "skilled, longitudinal, patient-clinician relationship."

Disagree?  Good.  I mostly do, too.  But I'm not going to do your homework for you.  Read the article, think through his positions, examine his data.  Then develop rational, data-driven responses.  Be prepared to listen to an equally rational and data-driven response back.  And before you know it, you'll be engaged in a legitimate, fruitful dialogue that may, in fact, identify common ground and lead to better solutions than either position might have achieved on its own.

For those that perceive a broader theme to this post, I admit an ulterior motive.  Let's practice data-driven dialogue across our professional, personal, and political spheres and see if we can't mend some broken fences.

Michael
On Twitter @PRIUM1

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Surgeon General Missed Something

First and foremost, the Surgeon General's recently released report "Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health" is a tremendously informative and culturally important step in the fight against prescription drug misuse and abuse.  Historically, Surgeon General reports have changed our national conversation on critically important public health issues such as smoking (34 separate reports from 1964 to 2014), HIV/AIDS (3 reports from 1987 to 1992), and mental health (2 reports from 1999 and 2001).  The fact that Dr. Vivek Murthy, our current Surgeon General, has turned the attention of the public health community to the topic of addiction is certainly a sign of progress.

Among its many constructive contributions, the report attempts to re-frame our nation's struggle with addiction in 'public health' terms rather than 'criminal justice' terms.  This change in approach appears to be among the precious few issues that have garnered bi-partisan support over the last couple of years, including through our most recent (and otherwise rancorous) election cycle.  Delays have dangerous ends, so I'm hoping that a change in party occupying the White House won't lead to a reversion in the public health progress we've begun to make.  

I did, however, find one notable omission from the Surgeon General's report.

Most readers of this blog live in the world of pain management and long term opioid use.  We see our daily battle as inextricably linked to the broader issue of addiction in our society and we see, up close and personal, a lot of the underlying causes that need to be addressed (mental and behavioral health issues, unrealistic expectations of pain relief, social factors that influence healing and pain perception, etc.)  But our lens on the issue is unique: what we often see is a legitimate prescription that is medically unnecessary (and, in many cases, downright harmful).

Interestingly, in Chapter 1 of the Surgeon General's report, the classes of drugs we most often encounter (pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives) are categorized under the heading "Illicits" and sub-categorized for purposes of reporting on misuse and abuse as "non-medical use."  The Surgeon General relies on the self-reported statistics from National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  I see this as a problem.  Take an example:

Premise: Bob was injured on the job back in 2011.  He perceives himself to be disabled (because everyone in his life keeps telling him he is) and began taking, as directed by his physician, 20 mg of oxycodone 2X day immediately post-injury... and is now taking 80 mg of the same drug 4X a day five years later.

Question 1: Would Bob categorize his use of oxycodone as "non-medical"?  He would not.
Question 2: Is Bob's use of oxycodone medically necessary?  Probably not.  In fact, it's probably inhibiting his functionality and ability to recover from the original injury.
Question 3: Is this category of drug use ('medically unnecessary') an important component of the public health dialogue around misuse of drugs?  Absolutely.

So why isn't it considered in the SG's report?  Maybe the data wasn't there.  Maybe the SG didn't want to rub the physician community the wrong way (he needs to enlist them in the fight, so why tick them off or impugn their credibility by blaming them for inappropriately prescribing in a seminal report?)

Whatever the reason, there's a category missing from the report.  And it's an important one.  Every time we taper a patient off of an opioid that wasn't helping him, we contribute to the progress against prescription drug misuse and abuse.

Michael
On Twitter @PRIUM1

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A New Regulatory Approach to Opioids

The New York Workers' Compensation Board has announced a new avenue for payers to challenge the appropriateness of long-term opioid use.  Published last week, the notice begins:
Opioid addiction is a major public health crisis in the state that deeply affects many of New York’s injured workers. The New York Non-Acute Pain Medical Treatment Guidelines (NAP MTG) adopted by the Chair in 2014 present a comprehensive approach to the management of chronic pain, and include best practice recommendations for the appropriate use of narcotics. 
As the NAP MTG makes clear, long-term opioid use is only recommended in limited circumstances, and must involve constant clinical monitoring and re-evaluation. The NAP MTG also includes best practices for safely weaning injured workers from opioids and other narcotics.
A workers’ compensation hearing can now be scheduled to determine whether continuing opioid usage is necessary or whether weaning from opioids is recommended.
This is an important development, but it's not a panacea.  This new type of hearing is specifically designed to "consider opioid weaning."  If opioid weaning is to be considered, then the payer would be well served to have a suggested weaning plan documented.  While the actual implementation of a tapering schedule may differ from the suggested plan, the prescribing physician should at least be aware of the guidelines associated with the drugs requiring weaning.  As always, the turning of the tide against opioid misuse and abuse requires preparation.  

The potential outcomes are fairly concrete.  According to the Board: 
When the WCLJ rules that the claimant must be weaned from the opioid medication, the insurer will be required to cover the cost of the claimant’s addiction treatment program or weaning protocol, as directed. If the claimant is to be weaned without addiction services, the insurer will remain liable for the claimant’s medications for the duration of the weaning process. If an addiction treatment program has been directed, then after 30 days, the insurer will only be liable for payment of narcotic prescriptions written by an addiction treatment program physician.
We'll be watching closely.

Michael
On Twitter @PRIUM1