Current Issue - September 2021 - Vol 24 Issue 6


  1. 2021;24;489-494Transition from Compounded to Monotherapy Intrathecal Pain Medication Reduces Drug Costs: Retrospective Analysis of Patient Billing Data
    Retrospective Analysis
    Keith-Austin Scarfo, DO, Owen P. Leary, ScB, Darlene Gaudet, MS, Alexios G. Carayannopoulos, DO, and Gail Grande, RN.

BACKGROUND: Chronic pain accounts for several hundred billion dollars in total treatment costs, and lost productivity annually. Selecting cost-effective pain treatments can reduce the financial burden on both individuals and society. Targeted drug delivery (TDD), whereby medications used to treat pain are delivered directly to the intrathecal space, remains an important treatment modality for chronic pain refractory to oral medication management. These medications can be administered alone (monotherapy), or in conjunction with other medications to give a synergistic affect (compounded therapy). While compounded therapy is often prescribed for pain refractory to both oral management and intrathecal monotherapy, compounded administration has not been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is thought to be more expensive. In this study, we hypothesized that TDD delivering monotherapy vs compounded therapy would differ significantly in cost.

OBJECTIVES: In 2015, a pharmacy-led initiative resulted in an institution-wide policy requiring that all TDD patients, being treated with compounded therapy, be transitioned to FDA-approved intrathecal monotherapy. The intent of this new policy was to eliminate use of non-FDA approved, “off-label” medications. During this transition, our practice used the opportunity to retrospectively analyze and compare the costs of monotherapy vs compounded therapy.

STUDY DESIGN: Billing, drug dosing, and pain data were collected from 01/2015 to 01/2019, and reviewed retrospectively for patients originally on compounded intrathecal medication therapy, and compared before and after transition to monotherapy.

SETTING: A multidisciplinary hospital-based spine center within an academic tertiary care facility.

METHODS: Electronic medical records from the institutional TDD program were retrospectively reviewed to identify all patients on compounded drug therapy before the transition period (2015-2016). Patients were excluded from the study if they chose to switch their care to another practice rather than transitioning from compounded therapy to monotherapy. Cost per medications refill, cost per year, and reported pain scale before and after the transition were computed, and differences were compared using unpaired t tests. Refill costs of individual drugs were also compared.

RESULTS: Of 46 patients originally on compounded therapy, 26 patients met inclusion criteria. The most common pre-transition drugs administered as compounded therapy were bupivacaine (n = 17), morphine (n = 15), and clonidine (n = 14), while hydromorphone (n = 10), baclofen (n = 5), and fentanyl (n = 1) were less common. There was a 51.3% decrease in cost per refill (P = 0.135) and a 50.0% decrease in cost per year (P = 0.283) after transition. Morphine and clonidine were both significantly more expensive than hydromorphone and bupivacaine (P < 0.05). After removing cases in which hydromorphone was the baseline opiate, there was a 64.8% decrease in cost per refill (P = 0.041) and a 66.8% decrease in cost per year (P = 0.190). There was no significant difference in the average reported pain scale across the transition (P = 0.323), suggesting stable pain management efficacy.

LIMITATIONS: This retrospective study is limited by its small cohort size and lack of a control group.

CONCLUSIONS: Based on single-institutional billing data, transition from compounded therapy to monotherapy TDD resulted in cost savings, dependent on the specific combination of drugs initially used for therapy. A larger multi-institutional study is indicated.

KEY WORDS: Low back pain, intrathecal pain management, implantable drug pump, cost analysis, morphine, hydromorphone, fentanyl, clonidine, baclofen, bupivacaine