The Myth of Morphine Equivalent Daily Dosage

The Myth of Morphine Equivalent Daily Dosage

Michael E. Schatman, PhD; Jeffrey Fudin, PharmD

May 24, 2016

For far too many years, pain researchers and clinicians have relied on the concept of the morphine equivalent daily dosage (MEDD), or some variant of it, as a means of comparing the “relative corresponding quantity” of the numerous opioid molecules that are important tools in the treatment of chronic pain. This concept dates back to the mid-1980s, first appearing in the cancer pain treatment guidelines by Portenoy and colleagues,[1] and has subsequently been used empirically and clinically for a variety of purposes.

For example, researchers have relied on non-empirically derived “equivalent dosages” as a means to facilitate research in which opioid consumption serves as a dependent variable. Clinically, opioid “conversion” tables have been routinely used when switching a patient from one opioid to another. And, most unfortunately, opioid prescribing guideline committees have relied on this concept as a means of placing (usually arbitrary) limits on the levels of opioids that a physician or other clinician should be allowed to prescribe. Although these guidelines typically bill themselves as “voluntary,” their chilling effect on prescribers and adaptation into state laws[2] makes calling them “voluntary” disingenuous.

Although some scientists and clinicians have been questioning the conceptual validity of MEDD for several years, a recent study[3] has indicated that the concept is unequivocally flawed—thereby invalidating its use empirically and as a tool in prescribing guideline development. This analysis determined that a fundamental inadequacy of the MEDD concept is the lack of a universally accepted opioid-conversion method. The authors used survey data from pharmacists, physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to estimate daily morphine equivalents and found great inconsistency in their conversions of hydrocodone, fentanyl transdermal patches, methadone, oxycodone, and hydromorphone—illustrating the potential for dramatic underdosing or, in other cases, fatal overdosing.

Regarding the use of MEDD in research, our suspicion is that many pain investigators have known about the problems with this prodigiously flawed concept for many years. For example, in a 1991 Australian review of the polymorphic metabolism of opioids,[4] the authors concluded that “Pharmacogenetics may play an important role in explaining the wide variability of the clinical response to many opioid drugs.” Yet, a quarter of a century later, MEDD remains routinely used in pain research worldwide. Given that invalid dependent variables in research result in invalid findings, our hope is that investigators will begin to conduct studies comparing morphine with morphine, hydrocodone with hydrocodone, and so on—as opposed to relying on the standard (and far more convenient) approach of MEDD.

Clinically, prescribers need to use this information regarding the flawed MEDD concept to begin practicing dosage-switching and opioid rotation in a more thoughtful and scientific manner. Thus, even if the charts suggest that 1 mg of oxycodone is the “equivalent” of 1.5 mg of morphine, the practice of opioid rotation based on the concept of pharmacogentic homogeneity needs to be seriously reconsidered.

Furthermore, the evidence supporting pharmacogenomic differences among patients is mounting[5,6] and needs to be carefully weighed before labeling a patient who requires 30 mg of morphine rather than the prescriber’s “standard” of 10 mg in order to achieve adequate analgesia as an “addict.” Patients with chronic pain (particularly that of noncancer origin) who are reliant on opioid analgesia are already sufficiently stigmatized and marginalized[7] to allow this type of practice to continue to be the norm.

Although the use of MEDD in research and, to a greater extent, in practice, is probably due to unawareness of its inaccuracy, we posit that the use of MEDD by recent opioid guideline committees (eg, the Washington State Opioid Guideline Committee[8] and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guideline Committee[9]) in the drafting of their guidelines is based more heavily on disregarding available evidence rather than ignorance. Furthermore, their misconduct in doing so has been more pernicious than the use of MEDD by researchers and individual clinicians, because these guidelines widely affect society as a whole as well as individual patients with persistent pain syndromes. We opine that these committees are strongly dominated by the antiopioid community, whose agenda is to essentially restrict opioid access—irrespective of the lack of data indicating that opioids cannot be a useful tool in the comprehensive treatment of carefully selected and closely monitored patients with chronic pain.

Although we emphatically agree that opioid analgesia should not be the first-line treatment for chronic noncancer pain, when other nonopioid treatments have either failed, are contraindicated medically or owing to behavioral and emotional factors, or are inaccessible because of the health insurance industry’s refusal to cover them (irrespective of their established evidence-bases), opioids should be considered. Guidelines that contain language suggesting that alternative treatments are regularly available when this is not the case are shortsighted and troubling.

Recently, we published an article in the Journal of Pain Research titled “The MEDD Myth: The Impact of Pseudoscience on Pain Research and Prescribing-Guideline Development,”[10] with Dr Jacqueline Pratt Cleary as our coauthor. This article goes into considerably more detail regarding the clinical and ethical imbroglio that we address in the current brief article, and as an open-access publication, the Journal of Pain Research encourages readers to access the full text at no cost here. We feel that the healthcare community must learn more about the need to work toward a paradigmatic revision in the consideration of opioids in research, clinical practice, and prescribing guideline development.

I can’t remember how long that I have been saying that any practitioner or entity that uses any of these MME conversion programs should be charged with unprofessional conduct or malpractice.  Besides the inaccuracies of these conversion calculation at face value… We have the fact that without throwing into the decision making process of changing a pt from one opiate to another  without considering the pt’s CYP-450 opiate enzyme metabolism status. Makes the entire conversion process INACCURATE at best.

Before everybody jumped on board of these MME conversion programs and before the CYP-450 opiate enzyme metabolism was in the mix… the standard of care and best practices when switching a pt from one opiate to another… was to use one of these calculator and whatever answer was produced – cut the pt’s starting dose IN HALF and start titrating the dose up or down …depending on the pts self-assessment of their level of pain and quality of life.

We have insurance companies, Prescription Benefit Managers, chain pharmacies, CDC, DEA and others making mandates on what level of opiate therapy a chronic pain pt should be provided.

Here we are dealing with treating subjective diseases and we as Homo sapiens  and we are individuals… we each have 50 odd enzymes in our livers that metabolizes various substances  along with numerous other systems that helps our body functions… some of us better than others.

We are not baking cookies here… we are dealing with a pt’s quality of life and yes we are dealing with medication that can POTENTIALLY BE ADDICTING to some 1.3% of the pts who are prescribed these medications for valid medical necessities.

Yet it would seem like every bureaucrat, politician and others believe that they have the authority to determine the appropriate level of opiate therapy all pts should receive by some cookie cutter formula… IMO… that seems to be like the PRACTICE OF MEDICINE…

Where is the various state medical licensing boards… isn’t it their responsibility to make sure that only licensed practitioners practice medicine ?

Where are the law firms, besides practicing medicine without a license… they are directly or indirectly discriminating against all of these pts and violating the Americans with Disability Act and the Civil Rights Act ?

Many pts have called law firms seeking representation, but apparently many have failed to explain to the law firm that they are not talking about malpractice, but civil rights discrimination, denial of care, pt abuse and in some incidents … intentionally throwing a pt into cold turkey withdrawal and elevated pain (torture).  If the pt’s problems involve a large healthcare corporation… the law firm needs to be aware that there is possibly some very DEEP POCKETS to go after and hundreds or thousands of pts involved.

5 Responses

  1. […] The Myth of Morphine Equivalent Daily Dosage […]

  2. pss,,on the whole attorney thing,,Thee other nite,,I watch’d a old time movie,”To Kill A Mockingbird,,” required reading in our highschool,,but it reminding me of us..It was based on a time in the deep south when a Blackman could not a find a single attorney to represent them. A time where whites would routinely blame innocent blacks of horrendous crimes like rape or murder when the truth was it was some white guy that committed the crimes.The white cared nothing that they were putting innocent men in jail for crimes they never committed.The propaganda ,the prejudice,the racism was soooo high in the deep south at this time that blacks were not even valued as humans with rights..GEE SOUND FAMILIER FOLKS??!!ANDREW KOLODNY HAS BROUGHT BACK AND USED HATRED AS A BOND FOR HIS ANTI OPIATE MEDICINE PROP-AGANDA,,AND ,”OLD TIME RELIGOIN,” OF RACISM,BIGOTRY AND PREJUDICE MR KOLODNY HAS BROUGHT BACK ,SUCCESFULLY ,,TO HARM THE WEAKEST IN SOCIETY,AND HIS PREJUDICE IS SOO SUCCESFULL NOT 1 ATTORNEY WILL HELP THE WEAKEST IN SOCIETY,,JUST LIKE A MOVIE BASED ON THE PREJUDICE IN THE SOUTH OVER 100 YEARS AGO,,,ONLY THIS TIME,,THE,” MOCKINGBIRD,”’ ARE THE MEDICALLY ILL,,NO MATTER WHAT COLOR,,, maryw

  3. My Doctor said thee exact same thing..This morphine equivalent crap,,is wrong..How thier coming up w/these equivalency is bias based.I just saw him 1 week ago,,my forced 90 day appt…and he said 1/2 of all the Doc’s in Milwaukee know its bullshit,,but are too afraid to speak up,,He said many of his colleagues are getting harrased by the dea and or medical boards,,He knows these men,and they’ve done nothing wrong..I shared w/him the article put out about wisconsins doj/dea/’addiction society simply going after the top 7 prescribers,,no matter what,,then going after the next 7 and sooo forth,,no-matter if they did nothing wrong,,,As far as contacting lawyers,,I HAVE,,,WELL OVER 100,,,I HAVE ACTUALLY WRITTEN DOWN EXACTLY the statute number for violating the practice of medicine,for discrimnation,for not adhering to the Constitutional amendment ,for violation the CSA,for exact number violations of every dang treaty international America has signed,,,only to be told,,”Didn’t I realize we are in a opiate addiction crisis and we are just collateral damage,,by 4 lawyers,,AVVO,,,and I have 3 pages of exact statute number violation America has broken,,,soo this pain patient has not simple gone after malpractice,,,I have stated everything Steve has stated to many attorney’s,human rights organization etc,,and still notta,,Now I am willing to bet,,,if I had 1 mill$$$ to put up front to these attorneys’,,,someone would say yes..Geez,,hell I even called J/J..and The Sacklers willing to testify FOR FREE,,,,,THINKING THE PHARMACUETICALS DO HAVETHE MONIES TO SEE A LAWSUIT THRU,,,NOT ANYMORE,,THE$$$,,,JUST FYI,,,maryw

  4. Excellently put. Ty very much.

  5. Well that was well said Steve. As simple as you made this sound,I doubt it will change anyone’s mind. Well actually where you say ” when going to a law firm” I think if more patients being denied pain medicine would file lawsuits,maybe then “they” will wake up. People dont like to be sued! Thanks for your “common sense”

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