While the national Opioid Crisis is ongoing, we have made significant progress as a nation in finding alternatives for Workers’ Compensation patients suffering from both Acute and Chronic pain. Another milestone may have been achieved with Vertex’s announcement of a potentially transformative medication for the treatment of pain without serious systemic side effects such as addiction.
In recent articles, we have focused on the respected efforts by governmental agencies that are responsible for ensuring patients across the United States are not exposed to harmful drugs and/or outdated treatment guidelines. This includes the DEA’s mandate for healthcare providers to complete 8-hour CME training on the treatment and management of patients with opioid or other substance use disorders, and the FDA’s approval of prescription nasal spray to reverse opioid overdose.
In this article, we are shifting our focus to a potential game changer when it comes to the addictive side effects of traditional commercially available opioid drugs.
Vertex is a global biotechnology company that invests in scientific innovation to create transformative medicines for people with serious and life-threatening diseases. They discovered and developed the first medicines to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis (CF), a rare, life-threatening genetic disease. In addition to clinical development programs in CF, Vertex has more than a dozen ongoing research programs focused on the underlying mechanisms of other serious diseases. More importantly for Workers’ Compensation, they are trying to develop a non-addicting non-opioid pain medication for acute pain.
Traditional opioids work to decrease the transmission of pain impulses by interrupting the pain messages in the spinal cord and interfering with the messages of pain coming from the brain in the central nervous system. Opioids are highly addictive because they activate powerful reward centers in the brain.
Many pharmaceutical companies, including Vertex, are trying to duplicate the analgesic qualities of opioids without central nervous system side effects and addictive potential. Vertex recently released research test results for two relatively small trial groups of patients suffering from acute pain in a post-surgical setting. The medication, known as VX-548, targets a particular sodium channel that is only active in the body’s peripheral sensory nerves. The idea is that inhibiting that channel might ease pain without serious systemic side effects – including the risk of addiction and abuse associated with opioids. While it is very early and additional extensive drug trials are needed, this test shows positive results and more importantly strengthens the proof-of-principle for continuing down this path for an effective analgesic without serious addicting side effects.
What does this mean for all Workers’ Compensation stakeholders who are involved in delivering the most appropriate care to injured workers and are dedicated to optimum recovery and restoration of their quality of life? These continued steps by innovative companies like Vertex in the form of new products designed to eliminate the harmful effects of opioids, have the potential to save lives.