Many Americans and their families have suffered from the opioid epidemic that has gripped the nation for several decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 2021, an increase of nearly 15% from the 93,655 deaths estimated in 2020. AIS Healthcare is one pharmacy provider fighting back against this devastating opioid epidemic. Here’s how it’s helping patients, families, and physicians.
The truth is that for patients suffering from severe chronic pain and spasticity, opioid medication can often be an essential path to a higher quality of life. But oral opioids can also be highly addictive and harmful to patients. And when they’re overprescribed, abused or diverted, opioids can cause serious harm.
About 20% of American adults suffer from chronic pain. In 2022, the CDC released new guidelines around prescribing opioids, updating its 2016 recommendations.
According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths have risen dramatically in the past few years and were at record levels during the Covid-19 pandemic. The CDC says most drug overdose deaths still involve opioids, with 72,000 overdose deaths from synthetic opioids alone in 2021.
“The science on pain care has advanced over the past six years,” said Dr. Debbie Dowell, chief clinical research officer for CDC’s Division of Overdose Prevention. “During this time, CDC has also learned more from people living with pain, their caregivers, and their clinicians. We’ve been able to improve and expand our recommendations by incorporating new data with a better understanding of people’s lived experiences and the challenges they face when managing pain and pain care.”
Oral opioids are not only at the center of the opioid epidemic in the United States; they also have side effects for patients who take the prescribed dose over a long period of time. For instance, because oral opioids go through a person’s blood system, they can damage organs like the kidneys and the gastrointestinal system. Oral opioids can also be the cause of other comorbid conditions.
Unfortunately, for too long, oral opioids have been too readily available to children or to anybody else who wants to look for them.
The country is increasingly regulating the use of oral opioids. In some states, physicians cannot prescribe more than seven days of an oral opioid to a patient. As a result, many physicians are looking for alternative treatment options.
But some of these patients are chronically ill and require a safer and more effective pain management treatment over a longer period of time. To help them in a responsible and caring way — and to help fight the opioid epidemic — AIS Healthcare is assisting this critical population.
How AIS Healthcare Uses Pump Medications to Help Fight the Epidemic
AIS Healthcare provides patients with pain medication via a pump, also known as intrathecal delivery medication.
Pump medications are a safe and effective alternative to taking medicine orally, including oral opioids. Instead of taking a pill, patients receive their doses from a device that’s surgically implanted, delivering medication directly into their nervous system.
In terms of the opioid epidemic and the misuse of pain medications, pumps have distinct advantages because they are virtually impenetrable. It’s almost impossible for someone to take medication out of a pump. Unlike pills, which can be taken off a shelf and bought or sold illicitly, there’s no way to transfer pump medications to someone else.
In addition, the effectiveness of oral medications can decrease over time. For medications taken orally, this usually means taking more and more pills. But medications provided via a pump are highly concentrated. The micro dose of that medication is delivered directly into the pain receptors in the spinal column. The effectiveness is far greater and can be targeted more accurately than an oral opioid.
Only health care professionals can change the prescription dosage, and the pump is programmed by a physician or qualified nurse. Patients aren’t able to take more than required or what their physician has prescribed. The dose is programmed, managed, and carefully monitored — therefore significantly reducing the risk of overdose or abuse by an individual patient.
An AIS Healthcare nurse can go to a patient’s home to change a dosage, but such changes always require a physician’s order. AIS Healthcare nurses cannot make a dose change on their own.
Pump medications go directly into the spinal canal, so they avoid going through the body’s entire system and there are minimal side effects. There are no comorbid conditions initiated as a result of taking an intrathecal delivery medication versus an oral opioid.
Why Doctors Ask AIS Healthcare for Help with Opioids
Targeted drug delivery treatments can often be more effective — in the proper contexts — for people who take long-term oral opioids.
More and more physicians are choosing TDD therapy for better pain management. Today, there are around 140,000 implanted pump patients nationwide — and the market is growing.
“Many physicians are seeing the benefits of TDD therapy for chronic pain and spasticity patients,” says Anish S. Patel, M.D., chief medical officer of AIS Healthcare. “For patients with comorbid conditions or who are at high risk for opioid abuse and addiction, TDD can provide a safer alternative to conventional medical pain management.”
Physicians can call AIS Healthcare’s pharmacists to have a consultation about a patient’s needs and specific medication and treatment plans.
Better Health Care Utilization and Reduced Costs Using AIS Healthcare’s TDD
Research indicates TDD is a viable and safe option for treating severe chronic pain.
TDD therapy has been shown to lead to a reduction in health care utilization as well as a decrease in costs. Patients with cancer-related pain who used TDD therapy in a recent study had fewer emergency department visits, fewer inpatient visits, and shorter hospital stays than patients using only conventional medical management. The result was an average cost savings of more than $60,000 a year, per patient.
While it’s true that there are many pharmacies that offer patient-specific, compounded TDD therapies for pain management, quality needs to be top of mind for prescribers when selecting a pharmacy. TDD medications are infused directly into the patient’s spinal fluid, so pharmacies need to be able to ensure quality and sterility. One error could be fatal.
All 503A specialty compounding pharmacies (those that prepare patient-specific prescriptions) must meet industry standards and state and local regulations to ensure maximum cleanliness and quality standards. But AIS Healthcare’s TDD division goes above and beyond these requirements for patient safety. AIS Healthcare is licensed in all 50 states and has two state-of-the-art 503A pharmacies that follow even higher quality standards than regulations require. AIS Healthcare uses third-party testing of all stock solutions and has more rigorous quality processes.
Higher Quality Medications Mean Better Patient Care from AIS Healthcare
Industry standards require 503A pharmacies to use aseptic processing to sterilize patient-specific prescriptions to ensure assurance levels of 1:1,000. By using its own unique process, AIS Healthcare combines aseptic processing with terminal sterilization to achieve 1:1,000,000 sterility assurance levels and beyond-use dates of 21 to 45 days at room temperature.
AIS Healthcare also offers in-home and in-clinic pump refills and maintenance to patients, and its care coordination program offers 24/7 nursing and pharmacist support. For patients requiring pain management, these services help reduce unnecessary trips to clinics and physician offices, reducing costs and giving physicians and their staff more time to care for more patients.
“At AIS Healthcare, we’re committed to doing more of what matters to advance quality throughout the care continuum,” says Simon Castellanos, AIS Healthcare CEO. “We’re proud to do what’s right, not just what’s expected, at every care touch point.”
Pain management is a necessity for many people in America. But the opioid epidemic has taught us as a society that we need to do things better. AIS Healthcare strives to do just that: helping its patients not only survive, but thrive.