Daily Archives: July 23, 2008

Pain is the 5th vital sign, problem for opiate abuse?

Drugmonkey points out that the graphic I linked to in the Las Vegas Sun last week was part of a series of articles on growing rates of narcotic abuse in Nevada. In part one of that series Marshall Allen and Alex Richards take issue with the American Pain Society and the Veteran’s Affairs campaign called “Pain is the 5th vital sign”:

The use of narcotics to treat pain got a tremendous boost in 1995 from the American Pain Society. Its corporate members include the pharmaceutical companies Purdue, maker of OxyContin; Abbott, maker of Vicodin and UCB, and Watson, maker of the hydrocodone drugs Lortab and Norco.

The society set guidelines saying proper pain management includes urging patients to report unrelieved pain. At the time studies had shown that cancer patients were suffering needlessly because they were not being given enough painkillers.

In January 1999, the Veterans Affairs Department, citing the American Pain Society’s statement that pain is one of the main reasons people consult a doctor, launched a campaign known as “Pain is the Fifth Vital Sign.”

The initiative encouraged health care providers to monitor a patient’s reported level of pain — a subjective symptom — as they did the four measurable vital signs: blood pressure, breathing rate, pulse and temperature. Health care providers asked patients to rank pain on a scale of 1 to 10, and were then urged to treat it.

Dr. Mel Pohl, a Las Vegas addiction recovery specialist, criticizes the pharmaceutical industry’s role in making pain the fifth vital sign.

“The rationale was that we don’t want people to suffer,” Pohl said. “In the best case that’s what it was about. In the worst case, somebody was working this out with the (financial) bottom line in mind. Probably both factors are part of it.”

Soon after, the methods advocated by Veterans Affairs were endorsed by the Joint Commission, the agency that monitors and regulates hospitals. Every hospital is now expected to measure pain in a similar manner.

What is the problem here? Continue reading