As opioid abuse skyrockets out of control, University of Cincinnati Health researchers are trying to zero in on fresh alternatives for the estimated 100 million people who suffer from chronic pain.
Principal investigator of a $1.95 million federal grant, Jun-Ming Zhang, MD, is studying the roles of the nervous system and immune system in preclinical models of back and neuropathic pain.
Scientists have discovered in some cases when a nerve block is given too late it doesn't work and patients turn to long-term use of drugs such as Percocet and Vicodin.
Zhang wants to determine the best dosage and timing for the nerve blocks. He's encouraged by a German study of 200 patients who were given a prolonged nerve block instead of a single injection. Zhang says patients got 100 percent pain relief.
Doctors say if patients wait three to six months to get a nerve block for pain there is a poor response.
UC Health anesthesiologist and pain management assistant professor Dr. James Fortman will partner with Zhang when the research reaches clinical trials. He says it’s appropriate to be on pain meds short term.
"What’s inappropriate is to say you should be on this for the next 10 years. You don’t need that because your ankle was broken. Instead, you need the medications for that first few months, get you through your physical therapy. Let’s slowly wean those medications down to a much lower level or completely off and that’s how we’re going to be able to hopefully turn the tide.”
In the meantime, he is doing his part to help solve the opioid problem. Monthly he leads a panel discussion to educate family doctors and every few months talks to hospital residents.
Fortman says the statistics are staggering when it comes to opioid abuse. From 1999 to 2007 in Ohio, unintentional drug poisonings increased 300 percent. The number of Americans suffering from chronic pain is estimated to be 100-million. Statistics show it costs society 6,000 to 14,000 for each person addicted to opioids. Only one in 20-thousand patients have a doctor specializing in pain management.