Tag: NEJM

Reading of the Week: Acupuncture for PTSD – the New JAMA Psych Study; Also, Chronic Homelessness & Hope, and Dr. Suzanne Koven on Mentorship

From the Editor

He survived a terrible car accident and recalls his worst memory: being pinned for hours in his Honda as rescuers attempted to free him, eventually with the Jaws of Life. The mental recovery proved more complicated than the physical one, with flashbacks and nightmares and the resulting substance misuse. He tried different therapies, but would he have benefitted from alternative treatments?

Dr. Michael Hollifield (of George Washington University) and his co-authors look at acupuncture for PTSD in a new JAMA Psychiatry study. They did an impressive randomized clinical trial involving 93 combat veterans with PTSD who received either verum or sham acupuncture. “[V]erum acupuncture had a large pretreatment to posttreatment effect and was statistically superior to sham needling for reducing PTSD symptoms and enhancing fear extinction.” We consider the paper and its clinical implications.

Across North America, there are more people than ever before who are chronically homeless. Who are they? What psychiatric problems do they have? How can we help them? In the second selection, Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos (of the University of Toronto) considers those who are chronically homeless in a podcast interview for Quick Takes. “The problem is visible. It’s in our streetcars and buses, our subways, our streets, and it’s hard to ignore.”

And in the third selection, Dr. Suzanne Koven (of Harvard University) writes about mentorship in The New England Journal of Medicine. She discusses how a mentor’s advice transformed her career and then considers what makes for good mentorship. “A mentor is someone who has more imagination about you than you have about yourself.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Cannabis-Related Disorders – the new NEJM Paper; Also, Surgeons & Opioid Prescribing and MAiD & Mental Illness

From the Editor

Cannabis use is increasingly common. Should you be screening for misuse? What’s the role of drug testing? Do short interventions work?

In the first selection, we look at the new paper on cannabis-related disorders, published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. David A. Gorelick (of the University of Maryland) comments on cannabis use disorder, offering practical suggestions, drawing on the latest in the literature (with 76 references). “Cannabis use disorder and heavy or long-term cannabis use have adverse effects on physical and psychological health.” We discuss the paper and its takeaways.

In the second selection, Jason Zhang (of the University of Michigan) and his co-authors consider surgeons and the prescribing of opioids. Given past problems, are surgeons more frugal when they reach for the prescription pad? Drawing on an impressive US database, they analyzed dispensed opioids from 2016 to 2022 in a new JAMA Network Open research letter, finding a step in the right direction – but just a step. “Despite large reductions in opioid prescribing, surgical opioid stewardship initiatives remain important.”

And in the third selection, The Globe and Mail weighs in on the recent decision to delay the expansion of medical assistance in dying, or MAiD, for mental disorders. In an unsigned editorial, the authors recognize the suffering of some, but argue that not enough has been done to define the term irremediable. “A delay is not enough.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Catatonia – the new NEJM Review; CBD for Bipolar and Dr. Samuels on Medical Assistance in Dying

From the Editor

Catatonia has been well described but is poorly understood.

So write Drs. Stephan Heckers and Sebastian Walther (both of Vanderbilt University) in a new review. We could add: catatonia is often striking. I remember a patient who literally sat for hours in his chair with catatonia secondary to schizophrenia. His family, in some denial, had insisted that his poor eating was related to hospital food and that his lack of activity had to do with the boredom of the ward.

Drs. Heckers and Walther’s review, just published in The New England Journal of Medicine, notes: “Catatonia is common in psychiatric emergency rooms and inpatient units,” with an estimated prevalence of 9% to 30%. They describe the diagnosis and treatment. We consider the paper and its implications.

Waxy flexibility (from catatonia) in an undated photo

Interest in CBD has surged in recent years. Can it help with the tough clinical problem of bipolar depression? In the second selection, Dr. Jairo Vinícius Pinto (of the University of São Paulo) and his co-authors attempt to answer that question in a new Canadian Journal of Psychiatry paper. They describe a pilot study, with 35 patients randomized to CBD or placebo, finding: “cannabidiol did not show significantly higher adverse effects than placebo.”

And in the third selection, Dr. Hannah Samuels (of the University of Toronto) discusses medical assistance in dying in a paper for Academic Psychiatry. This resident of psychiatry describes a patient who, dealing with pain, opted for MAiD. Dr. Samuels considers the decision but her ambivalence in part stemming from her training. “I felt sad, confused, and morally conflicted. Mrs. L never faltered in her confidence that this was the right decision for her, but I could not understand it.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Health Care Workers & Suicide – the new JAMA Paper; Also, Esketamine vs Quetiapine for Treatment-Resistant Depression (NEJM)

From the Editor

Sure, we are biased – but ours is a different type of job. Working in health care can involve life and death situations and trying to help those who are at their most vulnerable. The stakes can be high. 

But how does such work affect the workers themselves? Dr. Mark Olfson (of Columbia University) and his co-authors try to answer that question in a new paper for JAMA. In it, they analyze suicides among six different types of health care workers, including physicians, by drawing on a US data that offers a nationally representative sample from 2008 to 2019, including 1.84 million people. “Relative to non-health care workers, registered nurses, health technicians, and health care support workers in the US were at increased risk of suicide.” We consider the paper and its implications.

And in the other selection, Dr. Andreas Reif (of the University Hospital Frankfurt) and his co-authors focus on treatment-resistant depression. In this new paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine, they report on the findings from a study where 676 patients were randomized to either esketamine nasal spray or an antipsychotic augmenting agent in addition to an antidepressant. “In patients with treatment-resistant depression, esketamine nasal spray plus an SSRI or SNRI was superior to extended-release quetiapine plus an SSRI or SNRI with respect to remission at week 8.” We also look at the accompanying editorial.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Antidepressants & Bipolar – the New NEJM Paper; Also, AI & Med Ed and Humphreys on Language

From the Editor

What’s the role of antidepressants in the treatment of bipolar disorder? That question is openly debated.

In a New England Journal of Medicine paper that was just published, Dr. Lakshmi N. Yatham (of the University of British Columbia) and his co-authors try to shed light on this issue. In their study, people with bipolar depression who were in remission were given an antidepressant or a placebo and followed for a year. The study involved 209 people from three countries. “[A]djunctive treatment with escitalopram or bupropion XL that continued for 52 weeks did not show a significant benefit as compared with treatment for 8 weeks in preventing relapse of any mood episode.” We consider the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, Drs. Avraham Cooper (of Ohio State University) and Adam Rodman (of Harvard University) consider AI and medical education in The New England Journal of Medicine. They talk about previous technological advancements in history, including the stethoscope. AI, in their view, will change practice and ethics – with clear implications for training and education. “If we don’t shape our own future, powerful technology companies will happily shape it for us.”

And in the third selection, Keith Humphreys (of Stanford University) writes about words and word choices to describe vulnerable populations in an essay for The Atlantic. He notes historic disputes, such as the use of the term patient. “[M]aking these judgments in a rigorous, fact-based way would prevent experts, policy makers, and the general public from being distracted by something easy – arguing about words – when we need to focus on doing something much harder: solving massive social problems.” 

DG

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Reading of the Week: Xylazine – the New NEJM Paper; Also, Probiotics for Depression (JAMA Psych) and the New Drug Crisis (Nat Affairs)

From the Editor

Is xylazine the new fentanyl?

In the first selection, Dr. Rahul Gupta (of the University of Pennsylvania), who serves as the US Director of National Drug Control Policy, and his co-authors write about xylazine in The New England Journal of Medicine. They describe the emergence of this medication, intended for veterinarian uses, as a substance of abuse. They note its presentation and ask research questions. “Our goal is for the designation of xylazine as an emerging threat and subsequent actions to begin to address this threat before it worsens and undermines efforts to reduce illicit fentanyl use in the United States.” We consider the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, from JAMA Psychiatry, Viktoriya L. Nikolova (of King’s College London) and her co-authors look at probiotics – an area of increasing interest for those with mood and anxiety problems. They report on the findings of a small RCT involving people with depression who took an antidepressant but had an incomplete response. “The acceptability, tolerability, and estimated effect sizes on key clinical outcomes are promising and encourage further investigation of probiotics as add-on treatment for people with MDD in a definitive efficacy trial.”

And in the third selection, Charles Fain Lehman (of the Manhattan Institute) comments on the new drug crisis in a long essay for National Affairs. Lehman notes the rise of the synthetic agents (think fentanyl replacing heroin) and its impact on people, particularly in terms of overdoses. “Today’s drug cycle is different from previous ones, measured not just in the number of people addicted, but the number dead. Reducing the growth of that figure, now more than ever, is a vital task for policymakers to undertake.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Ketamine vs. ECT – the New NEJM Paper; Also, Burnout & Depression (QT) and Rehab for Schizophrenia (Wash Post)

From the Editor

“Ketamine Shows Promise for Hard-to-Treat Depression in New Study”

 – The New York Times

The gold standard for treatment-refractory depression has been ECT. Last week, The New England Journal of Medicine published a new study by Dr. Amit Anand (of Harvard University) and his co-authors comparing ketamine with ECT. They did a noninferiority trial, with more than 400 people. The results have been widely reported, including in The New York Times. They write: “This randomized trial evaluating the comparative effectiveness of ketamine and ECT in patients with treatment-resistant depression without psychosis showed noninferiority of ketamine to ECT…” We discuss the paper and the accompanying Editorial.

A recent Canadian Medical Association survey found that the majority of physicians reported experiencing high levels of burnout. In the second selection, Dr. Srijan Sen (of the University of Michigan) discusses this timely topic in a new Quick Takes podcast. He talks about the definition(s) of burnout, and the overlap with depression. “Burnout has become a loose term that means different things to different people.”

And in the third selection, Dr. Thomas Insel (of the Steinberg Institute) and his co-authors discuss the life and death of New Yorker Jordan Neely. In an essay for The Washington Post, they argue for better care, in particular with a focus on rehabilitation services for those with schizophrenia. “People with other brain disorders are not abandoned to become homeless or incarcerated rather than receive medical help.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Augmentation in the Elderly with Depression – the New NEJM Study; Also, Dr. Simpson on Violence (Globe)

From the Editor

“Approximately 30% of patients treated for depression do not have a response to selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).” So notes an Editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine. And for those who don’t respond, what’s the next step? 

Unfortunately, though many elderly struggle with depression, this population is understudied. In a new paper published in the same journal, Dr. Eric J. Lenze (of the Washington University in St. Louis) and his co-authors attempt to answer that question with a two-step intervention. “In older adults with treatment-resistant depression, augmentation of existing antidepressants with aripiprazole improved well-being significantly more over 10 weeks than a switch to bupropion and was associated with a numerically higher incidence of remission. Among patients in whom augmentation or a switch to bupropion failed, changes in well-being and the occurrence of remission with lithium augmentation or a switch to nortriptyline were similar.” We look at the study and its clinical implications, as well as the accompanying Editorial.

And, in the other selection, Dr. Sandy Simpson (of the University of Toronto) considers the violence seen on public transit in Canada’s largest city. In an essay for The Globe and Mail, he mulls several factors and points a way forward, including by advocating a guaranteed basic income. “We are seeing now that we have failed to create a compassionate society, and that security and safety needs to extend to all people. To achieve this, we need a change in heart, and expenditure.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Delirium in the ICU – the New NEJM Paper; Also, Admissions and COVID (CJP) and Dr. Boulay on Our Own (NEJM)

From the Editor

Is there a role for haloperidol in the treatment of delirium in ICU settings? That may seem like an unusual question since many patients receive this medication, perhaps half. But evidence is light.

In the first selection, Dr. Nina C. Andersen-Ranberg (of the University of Southern Denmark) and her co-authors consider ICU delirium with a new RCT, published in The New England Journal of Medicine. In this elegant study, half of the patients were randomized to receive haloperidol (in the IV form) and the other half received a placebo. They find: “Among patients in the ICU with delirium, treatment with haloperidol did not lead to a significantly greater number of days alive and out of the hospital at 90 days than placebo.” We consider the paper.

In the second selection, Dr. Scott B. Patten (of the University of Calgary) and his co-authors analyze hospital admissions and psychiatric diagnoses before and after the start of the pandemic. In this Canadian Journal of Psychiatry paper, they draw on Alberta data. Noting an existing literature on eating disorders, they also find an increase in patients with personality disorders being admitted. “[T]he increase was more pronounced than the widely reported increase in admissions for eating disorders.”

And, in the third selection, Dr. Richard M. Boulay (of St. Luke’s University Health Network) weighs in on physician mental health. In this highly personal New England Journal of Medicine paper, the gynecologic oncologist describes the problems of a second-year surgery resident who almost dies by suicide. He feels that she was failed by her program and medical culture itself. He writes: “[S]olutions are available. It’s time we began looking after our own.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Psilocybin for Treatment-Refractory Depression – the New NEJM Paper

From the Editor

“Severe depression eased by single dose of synthetic ‘magic mushroom’”

– CNN, 3 November 2022

For its proponents, psilocybin could be the breakthrough we have been waiting for in depression treatment. For its critics, psilocybin lacks evidence.

What to make of psilocybin? Dr. Guy M. Goodwin (of the University of Oxford) and his co-authors attempt to answer that question with a phase 2 double blind trial focused on those with treatment-resistant depression, offering participants psilocybin at three different doses, in addition to therapy. The resulting paper was just published in The New England Journal of Medicine and has received much attention (including, yes, coverage by CNN). They find: “participants with treatment-resistant depression, psilocybin at a single dose of 25 mg, but not 10 mg, reduced depression scores significantly more than a 1-mg dose over a period of 3 weeks but was associated with adverse effects.” 

The future of depression treatment?

We discuss the big paper and the review the accompanying Editorial by Bertha K. Madras (of Harvard University). We also have comments from Dr. Ishrat Husain (of the University of Toronto), one of the study co-authors.

So does psilocybin offer a breakthrough? Read on and decide for yourself.

(Note that there will be no Reading next week.)

DG

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