Prescribing Opiates to the Entire House

Opiate prescribing has blossomed into an appropriately huge issue in the current medical landscape. A fair bit of thought now goes into evaluating individuals for their potential for use and misuse – including even state-mandated prescription database review.

But, this interesting analysis suggests it should not only be the individual recipient considered when prescribing – but the impact on the health of the entire household. These authors compared administrative health care claims from 12,695,280 patients with a family member prescribed opiates against 6,359,639 patients whose family members were prescribed a non-opiate analgesic. Within one year, 11.68% of family members of those prescribed an opiate subsequently received their own, compared with 10.60% in the non-opiate cohort. After statistical adjustment, the absolute difference narrowed somewhat, and the authors also report their sensitivity analysis cannot rule out invalidation of their findings by an unmeasured confounder.

Regardless, this fits with my anecdotal experience – where many patients coming in for musculoskeletal pain have used a family member’s leftover opiate medication for breakthrough pain control. Despite the underlying limitations from this statistical analysis, it certainly seems to have face validity. It is reasonable to consider not just the individual patient being prescribed opiates, but also the risk to the household as being a gateway to subsequent opiate prescribing for family members.

“Association of Household Opioid Availability and Prescription Opioid Initiation Among Household Members”

Atraumatic Spinal Needles are Less Traumatic

It’s a tautology!

In a solid “not news, but newsworthy” systematic review and meta-analysis published in The Lancet, these authors pooled data from 110 trials comparing conventional (“cutting”) spinal needles with “atraumatic” ones. The atraumatic ones, after all, are thought to result in less tissue damage and corresponding complications. The perceived downside to the atraumatic needles, however, is related to potentially decreased procedural success.

In short, none of the results favor the conventional needles.  The sample sizes for each measure ranged from 24,000 patients to 1,000, with most right in the middle of the range.  These authors evaluated incidence of such complications as post-procedural headaches, need for analgesia, need for epidural blood patch, nerve root irritation, or hearing disturbances. With regard to procedural success, these authors evaluated the traumatic taps, first attempt success, and overall procedural failure rate.

The magnitude of reduction in various complications was wide, but consistent. In an absolute sense, any post-procedural headache associated with use of atraumatic needles was from 12% to 7%, and the need for epidural blood patch decreased from 2% to 1%.  With regard to any reduction in procedural success, no signal of difference was observed.

The authors accurately report there is low awareness of the advantages of the atraumatic needles among clinicians. These data, even if not novel, at least are published on an adequate platform to improve awareness of the superior alternative.

“Atraumatic versus conventional lumbar puncture needles: a systematic review and meta-analysis”

What Does the ACC Say About OAC Reversal?

Just in case you were curious ….

Conventional tests useful for ruling out clinically relevant levels contributing to bleeding risk:

  • Dabigatran – a normal Thrombin Time or sensitive activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT).
  • Factor Xa-inhibitors – None.

If you have access to Anti-Xa specialized assays, they can be used to measure the level of activity for the Factor Xa-inhibitors.

Managing OAC-associated bleeding:

  • Warfarin – 4-factor prothrombin concentrate complexes (PCCs) at weight-based dosing between 25 units/kg and 50 units/kg based on INR.
  • Dabigatran – Idarucizumab.
  • Factor Xa-inhibitors – 4-factor PCCs at 50 units/kg.

The authors also suggest use of PCCs as second line for idarucizumab, but this is likely to be fruitless and the evidence is very weak. Hemodialysis is also an option for removal of circulating dabigatran in a narrow set of clinical scenarios.

The authors also mention andexanet alfa and ciraparantag as potentially useful adjuncts at some point in the future, but no specific clinical role has yet been defined.

“2017 ACC Expert Consensus Decision Pathway on Management of Bleeding in Patients on Oral Anticoagulants”

Retiring Steroids for Hives

This is one of those perfectly unglamorous, yet infinitely practical sorts of topics we encounter in everyday Emergency Medicine. I must see a patient with urticaria, almost always without known underlying trigger or etiology, nearly every other shift. They are itching furiously, and, well – it’s an Emergency!

In true “don’t just stand there, do something!” fashion, I’ve done what I can to help. This typically means “something stronger”, something not over-the-counter, and is usually a dose of dexamethasone to augment antihistamine therapy.

This small trial of 100 patients randomized patients with uncomplicated urticaria to levocetirizine (a H1 receptor-blocker) plus 40 mg of prednisone for four days, or levocetirizine plus placebo. Patients were assessed at several subsequent time points for “itch score”, rash recurrence, and other adverse events – and the winner is: placebo! There was no obvious difference or trend favoring those patients receiving steroids.  There is, however, always the potential for Type II error with such a small sample, but when a positive outcome is difficult to demonstrate, the magnitude of effect is not likely to be large.

Interestingly, they screened 710 patients in order to enroll 100, with 412 not meeting inclusion criteria. These exclusions were mostly evenly distributed between the following criteria: angioedema or anaphylaxis, use of antihistamines or glucocorticoids prior to the ED visit, and rash of greater than 24 hours duration. These limitations do limit the generalizability of these findings, considering their study cohort was ultimately only about one-fifth of all comers. It is probably still reasonable to suggest from a Bayesian sense, at least, steroids should be assumed not to have value in somewhat wider a population than explicitly testing here, but this is not definitive.

“Levocetirizine and Prednisone Are Not Superior to Levocetirizine Alone for the Treatment of Acute Urticaria: A Randomized Double-Blind Clinical Trial”

Out of the Way!

The mobile stroke unit is the new, malignant, extravagant reaction to the “Time is Brain” mantra. However, not all locations are endowed with such an embarrassment of resources.

This very brief report details a systems approach in Mashhad, in Northeast Iran. In 2015, these authors reported only 1.2% of all strokes received treatment with IV tPA, and their analysis indicated prehospital delays were their primary issue. Rather than take the CT to the patient, their far more entertaining solution was simply to clear a path. To relieve delays from chronic traffic congestion and gridlock, they designed an online control system for all traffic lights to be activated based on the severity of the emergency medical condition. Green lights in a continuous path from the incident location to the medical facility help activate traffic flow to allow ambulances room to maneuver. These authors report their successful implementation reduced prehospital transfer time by 50%, although absolute measures are not reported.

Now, they do mention their next step is to report on improvements in patient-oriented outcomes. However, unless the traffic is truly catastrophic, I expect improvements in anything but process surrogates will be difficult to detect.

“Time is brain: An online controlling of traffic lights can save lives”