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Managing acute pain in inpatients on OUD therapy



Communicating about pain management

“Communication is always the key to effective pain management in every situation,” Dr. Vettese emphasized.

“I talk to the patient about the goals of effective pain management. I’ll discourage the use of the 1-10 pain scale, and instead, I’ll be honest about expectations, saying, ‘You have a problem that will cause acute pain, and it’s unlikely that I will be able to completely relieve your pain. The goal is to improve your function so that you can get up and go the bathroom by yourself, and so that you can sleep for a few hours. That’s how we’re going to measure the efficacy of our pain-management program.’ ”

She explains to the patient that she’ll be using nonopioid medications and nondrug therapies along with oral opioid pain medications, which are less risky than IV opioids. She offers reassurance that this treatment strategy won’t cause an OUD relapse. She lets the patient know up-front that the opioids will be tapered as the acute pain improves.

For the patient who comes into the hospital on buprenorphine for OUD, she immediately checks with the state prescription drug monitoring program to make sure everything is above board and there’s no indication of doctor shopping for prescriptions. For in-hospital acute pain, it’s safe and effective to continue the outpatient dose. On an outpatient basis, however, the drug is given once daily. On that dosing schedule both the euphoric effect as well as the analgesic effect are lost, so for acute pain management in the hospital it’s recommended to split the dose into twice- or thrice-daily doses to achieve an analgesic effect.

Oral NSAIDs are part of the treatment strategy whenever possible. For severe acute pain, Dr. Vettese will prescribe an immediate-release opioid having a high affinity to the mu opioid receptor, such as oral hydromorphone, on an as-needed basis. The drug has onset of effect in 30 minutes, peak effect in 1 hour, and a duration of effect of 4-6 hours, although she recommends going with 4 hours to provide adequate analgesia.

“These patients will require much higher doses than the patients who are opioid naive,” she advised.

For the patient with acute pain who is admitted while on methadone for OUD, it’s important to call the outpatient treatment program to verify the dosage.

“You can split the dose of methadone to try to get better analgesia, although I can tell you that patients who are treated with methadone for OUD frequently don’t want to do that. And if they don’t want to, then I don’t,” the hospitalist said.

As with the patient on buprenorphine for OUD, she’ll use additional oral immediate-release opioids as needed for acute severe pain in a patient on methadone for medication-assisted OUD treatment.

Dr. Vettese reported having no financial conflicts regarding her presentation.


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