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Saper JR, Lake AE, Hamel RL, Lutz TE, Branca B, Sims DB, Kroll MM. Daily scheduled opioids for intractable head pain: long-term observations of a treatment program. Neurology. 2004;62:1687-1694.

Background: Daily scheduled opioids (DSO) have been employed in some instances to remediate intractable headache. However, long-term studies of effectiveness, sequelae over several years, predictors of long-term benefit, comparisons of pain-related outcome measures, and prevalence of problematic drug behavior are not available.

Methods: The authors evaluated the results of a treatment program at their institution designed to treat and monitor intractable headache patients administered DSO. Of 160 sequential patients participating in the program, 70 who remained on DSO for at least 3 years qualified for inclusion in an efficacy analysis. Patients completed structured questionnaires at each medical visit as part of routine clinical care. The authors assessed medical records during treatment, and during the 2 years before starting DSO. The primary clinical efficacy variable was percentage improvement in the severe headache index (frequency × severity of severe headaches/week).

Results: Analysis of the medical records found 41 (26%) of the original 160 patients with >50% improvement. Patients reported larger improvements on a visual analog scale (mean improvement = 70%) than shown by the medical record (mean improvement = 46%), P < .00001. Problem drug behavior (dose violations, lost prescriptions, multisourcing) occurred in 50% of patients, usually involving dose violations.

Conclusions: For a select group of intractable headache patients, DSO can offer significant benefit. However, 74% of those treated either failed to show significant improvement or were discontinued from the program for clinical reasons. The relatively low percentage of patients with demonstrated efficacy and unexpectedly high prevalence of misuse have clinical relevance.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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