To provide guidelines for the institution and maintenance of a continuous subcutaneous narcotic infusion program for cancer patients with chronic pain through an analysis of the narcotic requirements and treatment outcomes of patients who underwent such therapy and a comparison of the costs of two commonly used infusion systems.
Tertiary care facilities and patients' homes.
Of 481 patients seen in consultation for cancer pain between July 1987 and April 1990, 60 (12%) met the eligibility criteria (i.e., standard medical management had failed, and they had adequate supervision at home).
Continuous subcutaneous infusion with hydromorphone hydrochloride or morphine started on an inpatient basis and continued at home whenever possible.
Patient selectivity, narcotic dosing requirements, discharge rate, patient preference for analgesic regimen, side effects, complications and cost-effectiveness.
The mean initial maintenance infusion dose after dose titration was almost three times higher than the dose required before infusion (hydromorphone or equivalent 6.2 v. 2.1 mg/h). Eighteen patients died, and the remaining 42 were discharged home for a mean of 94.4 (standard deviation 128.3) days (extremes 12 and 741 days). The mean maximum infusion rate was 24.1 mg/h (extremes 0.5 and 180 mg/h). All but one of the patients preferred the infusion system to their previous oral analgesic regimen. Despite major dose escalations nausea and vomiting were well controlled in all cases. Twelve patients (20%) experienced serious systemic toxic effects or complications; six became encephalopathic, which necessitated dose reduction, five had a subcutaneous infection necessitating antibiotic treatment, and one had respiratory depression. The programmable computerized infusion pump was found to be more cost-effective than the disposable infusion device after a break-even point of 8 months.
Continuous subcutaneous infusion of opioid drugs with the use of a portable programmable pump is safe and effective in selected patients who have failed to respond to standard medical treatment of their cancer pain. Dose titration may require rapid dose escalation, but this is usually well tolerated. For most communities embarking on such a program a programmable infusion system will be more cost-effective than a disposable system.