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The 'treatment-resistant' smoker

Strategies to help smokers who are resistant to treatment include intensive combination
pharmacotherapies and the use of nicotine replacement therapy to reduce the harm
caused by smoking.
It often amazes healthcare professionals that in denial about the consequences to them, thatpeople with asthma continue to smoke given they hold a self-exempting belief (‘it won’t happen the widespread information available to them to me’).3 However, the group of ‘sick smokers’ detailing the harmful effects smoking has on already face the consequences of their smoking.
health, and on theirs in particular. Recent National Are they not serious about stopping smoking Health Surveys have shown that in Australia about and only make half-hearted quit attempts? Are 26% of people with current asthma were smokers, they more dependent on smoking than other which is considerably more than the national smokers, and less likely to respond to behavioural or pharmacotherapies? While most smokers want Why do people with asthma and others that we to quit, it is probable that there is a hierarchy of see in clinical practice with respiratory, cardiac, vas- quitting where the more dependent a smoker is, cular and other sequelae from their smoking carry the more resistant they may be to treatment and on smoking despite our strong recommendations the more intensive the intervention may need to be to them to quit? Why do they continue when they in order to effect a positive outcome.4 Table 1 lists have heard the message to quit ‘a million times’? features of smoking that indicate an individual Are these smokers impervious to quit campaigns? Is there something particular about this group, the According to the DSM-IV, the definition of a drug addiction incorporates the fact that ‘the There is some evidence that some smokers are substance use is continued despite knowledge • There is a hierarchy of strategies available to help tobacco smokers that begins with
permanent cessation and provides safe options for those people unable to achieve this.
Some smokers respond well to some pharmacotherapies and others do not. Every
smoking cessation pharmacotherapy for which there is substantiated evidence should
be tried – a patient just might strike the most suitable one for them.
The harm reduction strategy of reducing smoking by the use of nicotine replacement
therapy (NRT) should be considered for treatment-resistant smokers. It is less harmful
for a person to smoke while using NRT than it is to smoke without it.
There is good evidence that it is never too late to quit smoking. Reducing smoking by the
transient use of NRT may be a gateway to quitting for treatment-resistant smokers.
Algorithms are provided for smoking cessation therapy options and the use of combination
NRT in treatment-resistant smokers.
16 MedicineToday ❙ August 2007, Volume 8, Number 8
Table 1. Who needs extra help
The treatment-resistant smoker
Features indicating more help needed

Smoking or symptoms of nicotine withdrawal Features of little relevance in quitting

of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have beencaused or exacerbated by the substance’.5 Thus thelikelihood that these ‘sick smokers’ are dependentis very high. If they are, then how can we helpthem? Can we expect spontaneous, unaided quit-ting in this group? The DSM-IV tells us that thistype of tobacco addict cannot quit in this way:‘there is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effortsto cut down or control substance use’.5 Is the preva-lence of smoking in Australia now low enough thatthose who could quit have quit, leaving a group ofhard-core resistant tobacco dependents? Clinical judgement and psychological tact are important in helping smokers It is immediately apparent that the resistant quit. Patients who are persistent smokers can be helped towards better smoker may have issues other than their own health using the strategies of combining therapies or reducing harm.
physical health regarding their smoking. Smoking Nicotine replacement therapy is but one of the available therapies.
in Australia today is associated with poorer mental health.6,7 Depression and/or a history of depressionis a comorbidity extraordinarily common in activesmokers,8-12 and has been strongly linked in smok- have antidepressant effects that maintain smoking, ers with chronic respiratory disease and heart and antidepressants may substitute for this effect’.20disease.13,14 Smoking is also linked to socioeco- Depression may be a feature of a smoker’s depen- nomic status, lower income and poorer education dency but, with the exception of bupropion and being strongly linked with current smoking.15 the anxiolytic nortriptyline, unfortunately there is Nicotine is a formidable antidepressant,16-18 and no evidence to date that currently available anti- self-medicating with it is a feature of smoking.
depressants generally help in smoking cessation.20 Depression can be measured by the amount of The efficacies of bupropion and nortriptyline are smoking and it is current best practice to assess equal to those of nicotine replacement therapy depression in some format in all chronic relapsing (NRT);20 bupropion (Clorprax, Prexaton, Zyban smokers. Even a simple one-line question such as SR) has been indicated for smoking cessation but ‘Do you feel depressed?’ might be a pointer towards risk of relapsing during a quit attempt.19 A recent What then can be done for these ‘resistant’ or Cochrane review acknowledges that ‘nicotine may MedicineToday ❙ August 2007, Volume 8, Number 8 17
Table 2. Assessing risk factors
for smoking cessation relapse
Time to first cigarette (number
comes.22 Specialists in smoking cessation and type irrelevant)
there is substantiated evidence should be up the slogan, ‘More better, longer better’, tried – a patient just might strike the most for example bupropion, is not ‘successful’ Dealing with the ‘too late to
quit’ patient
Psychiatric history
patient then this does not imply that other Psychologically, it is advisable to avoid treatments may be equally unsatisfactory.
mentioning the ‘Quit or you’ll die’ black Also, a patient doing extremely well on a sider it is too late to quit smoking. They • Alcohol abuse strongly predicts relapse have invariably heard this before (proba- Quitting history
with ‘rogue’ or mutant neuronal nicotine be distressed by this ‘threat’, and this may • Poor history of previous quit attempts receptor subtypes are poor responders lead to a more anxious smoker. There is good evidence that it is never too late to quit. Every single smoker, irrespective able that target these receptors, a patient Family history
may just ‘luck-in’ and respond to these Environmental contexts
usage of all pharmacotherapies to date for smokers may require the delicate politics smoking cessation, primarily because it is of easing into quitting – a softer approach.
Dealing with the ‘been there,
done that’ patient
pharmacotherapies and others do not.
chewing gums, lozenges, inhalers and their nicotine intake is suppressed and sublingual tablets) in treatment-resistant relapsing will greatly improve your ability gas are also reduced.23,24 It is, therefore, algorithm is self-explanatory, some of less harmful for a person to smoke ‘off-label,’ but we are finding that more pies head-to-head have been successful and more patients are requiring higher doses of nicotine as ‘replacement’ to effect interventions have been a great deal less successful outcomes. We have also found that these intensive interventions are both cessation therapies on page 21 shows safe and effective. resistant to quit attempts or even to quit- ting at all. There are no readily available Temporary abstinence using NRT
markers, biological or psychosocial, have also been devised to target this Using NRT to provide temporary absti-that help us determine who will do better 18 MedicineToday ❙ August 2007, Volume 8, Number 8
Smoking cessation strategies for the treatment-resistant smoker
The treatment-resistant smoker
If no absolute quitting, try harm reduction strategy‡ * NRT = nicotine replacement therapy.
† Combination NRT = transdermal nicotine patch plus nicotine gum, lozenge, inhaler or sublingual tablet.
‡ Harm reduction strategy = alternating NRT with smoking to reduce number of cigarettes smoked or achieve temporary abstinence. Note contraindications and that new drugs will be available soon.
encouraged as harm reduction. The British smoking a cigarette with any form of NRT.
MedicineToday ❙ August 2007, Volume 8, Number 8 21
Bittoun combination nicotine replacement therapy algorithm
Smokers in whom nicotine replacement therapy is appropriate
Try one 21 mg nicotine transdermal patch a day (apply each night Before starting therapy, check for contraindications (pregnancy or possible pregnancy, or cardiovascular event within 48 hours) eliminated, go to C
go to B (i.e. two
patches plus B)
Continue for two weeks, then reduce added ‘breakout’ nicotine replacement therapy Continue one 21 mg nicotine patch a day for a minimum of seven to eight weeks, then either stop completely or wear patch on alternate days for a further week and then stop completely‡ * Applying patch before sleep allows the slow rise of nicotine overnight, strongly reducing the ‘urge’ for the first cigarette of the day.
† No evidence in the literature or in the author’s experience of toxicity.
‡ No evidence in the literature for weaning (or reduction) of patch strengths. Source: Bittoun R. A combination nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) algorithm for hard-to-treat smokers. J Smoking Cessation 2006; 1: 3-6.
22 MedicineToday ❙ August 2007, Volume 8, Number 8
not particular to Australia alone. It repre- abstinence is an appropriate strategy sents a typical confounding dilemma of • relief of cravings and other nicotine Indigenous smokers
dependent non-Indigenous population.
Identification, education and brief inter-vention are just some of the basic strate-gies aimed at this group, and culturallyappropriate strategies such as these will,in time, reduce smoking rates in thisgroup as well. and ethnic (and also gender) differencesin nicotine metabolism through theCYP2A6 gene, and that these differencesaffect ability to quit smoking.28 These vari-ants have not been studied in Australianpopulations.
As with all medical conditions, clinical
judgement and psychological tact are
important in helping smokers quit. The
strategies of combining therapies or reduc-
ing harm are important avenues in these
matters and can be pursued by clinicians
keen to help their persistent smoking
patients towards better health.
A list of references is available on requestto the editorial office. DECLARATION OF INTEREST: The author has receivedfinancial grants from time to time throughout hercareer from pharmaceutical companies producingsmoking cessation products.
CPD Journal Program
for the online version, and a chance to win a Navman F20 Portable GPS Navigator.
24 MedicineToday ❙ August 2007, Vol 8, Number 8


Microsoft word - number needed to treat/nnt.doc

Medicine's Dirty Little Secret Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; Time Magazine; Dr. Joseph Mercola There's one medical statistic doctors don't much talk about despite its importance. It's called the NUMBER NEEDED TO TREAT, or NNT and it’s one of the best-kept statistical secrets in medicine. When the NNT statistic was first developed in 1988, it was intended to help you make a decision abou

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