Targeted Drug Delivery

Living with Less: Understanding Targeted Drug Delivery for Chronic Pain

Chronic pain, a persistent cause of suffering for millions, can significantly impact daily life. While traditional oral medications offer some relief, their side effects and limitations often leave patients searching for better solutions. Targeted drug delivery (TDD) emerges as a beacon of hope, offering potential for more effective pain management with fewer drawbacks. Let’s delve into this innovative approach and see if it could be the key to unlocking a life less consumed by pain.

Limitations of oral Medications:

There are many reasons why oral pain medications don’t work.  For starters, we develop tolerance to the medication, which means that we need more and more of the medication to achieve the same effect.  This is why patients often experience pain relief when they first start a pain medication, but the relief wears off after just several weeks.

Another problem with the use of oral pain medication is that they block the normal function of the brain.  Normally, the brain produces powerful chemicals called endorphins that have the natural ability to block pain.  Throughout evolution, the endorphin system was the primary way that animals blocked pain.  However, the brain stops producing these chemicals when they are exposed to oral opioids for a prolonged period of time.  This can lead to a situation in which the pain is made worse by oral pain medications, a condition known as opioid induced hyperalgesia.

Finally, oral pain medications are not delivered in a targeted way to the correct area.  Most of the opioid pain receptors are located in the brain and spine. However, when medications are taken by mouth a very small amount of the medication is actually delivered to the spine and brain.  This is due to a complex pathway by which the medication is absorbed by the body: it is broken down by the acids in the stomach, absorbed by the small intestines into the blood stream, metabolized by the liver, eliminated in the stool, and excreted by the kidneys.  A very small amount of the active medication will arrive to the spine and brain, but most of it leaves the body without having a positive impact on one’s pain.  In order to overcome these barriers, a high dose of oral medication must be provided in hopes that a small amount gets to the brain and spinal cord.

In order to achieve adequate amounts of opioid medication in the spine and brain, a high dose must be given by mouth.  This increases the risks of side effects.

What is Targeted Drug Delivery?

Imagine bypassing the digestive system and delivering medication directly to the source of your pain – the spinal cord. That’s the magic of Targeted Drug Delivery (TDD). A small, programmable pump implanted under your skin releases precise doses of pain medication into the fluid surrounding your spinal cord, targeting the pain signals before they reach your brain.

How does it work?

TDD typically involves two main components:

  • Implantable pump: This device resides discreetly under your skin, usually in the abdomen. It holds a reservoir for your medication and a programmable system that controls the dosage and delivery schedule.
  • Catheter: A thin, flexible tube connects the pump to the spinal space (the fluid-filled area around your spinal cord). This is where the medication is released, directly interacting with pain receptors.

Benefits of TDD:

  • More effective pain relief: TDD delivers medication directly to the source, allowing for lower doses and potentially more potent pain control compared to oral medications.
  • Reduced side effects: By bypassing the digestive system, TDD minimizes common side effects like nausea, constipation, and drowsiness associated with oral pain meds.
  • Improved quality of life: Effective pain management can lead to increased mobility, better sleep, and enhanced participation in daily activities, ultimately improving your overall well-being.
  • Reduced medication dependence: Over time, TDD may allow for decreased reliance on traditional pain medications, potentially lowering the risk of addiction and tolerance.

Is TDD right for you?

TDD is considered for patients with chronic pain unresponsive to or experiencing significant side effects from oral medications. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and careful evaluation of your medical history and pain condition is crucial to determine if TDD is the right option for you.

Important considerations:

  • Surgical procedure: Implanting the pump and catheter requires a minor surgery, so discussing potential risks and benefits with your doctor is essential.
  • Cost: TDD can be expensive, and insurance coverage varies. Talk to your healthcare provider and insurance company about potential costs and coverage details.
  • Lifestyle adjustments: While discreet, the pump requires some additional care and monitoring. Learning how to operate the pump and navigate daily life with the device is part of the TDD journey.


Living with less pain is possible. Targeted drug delivery offers a promising approach for chronic pain management, delivering relief closer to the source and potentially reducing adverse effects. While it’s not a magic bullet, TDD presents a valuable option for those seeking a better quality of life with less pain. Remember, open communication with your doctor is key to exploring this possibility and finding the best path towards living life to the fullest.

Additional resources:

Dr. Todd A. Bromberg, M.D. When chronic pain and spinal issues impact your quality of life, you need a team of crack spine and pain specialists at your disposal. Delaware Valley Pain & Spine Institute works with some of the most respected experts in the field to bring pain relief and restored quality of life to patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey!
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