Drug therapies continue to evolve so often that the goals of their intended care for certain disease states also change. A classic example of this shift would be the medications used to treat HIV and AIDS. Less than a few decades ago the medications for HIV/AIDS were purely thought as palliative and were used to keep patients from suffering near the end of life. Now with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) as a first line treatment option, patients are living without an imminent threat to their health status. However, there are a few points to consider when looking at HAART and patients at the end of their life in need of symptom management and palliation. The drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS come with a lot of side-effects and drug interactions, particularly interactions with medications used in palliative care. Palliative care in HIV/AIDS does not always have to be an alternative treatment, but one that can be combined with disease-state focused therapy1.
Important goals of palliative care include treating pain, fatigue, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and depression. Here are some examples of medications appropriate for treating these signs.
1. For the symptom of fatigue, consider managing with prednisone, dexamethasone, or methylphenidate.2
2. For the symptom of weight loss, consider managing with prednisone, dexamethasone, or megestrol acetate (non-preferred).2
3. For the symptom of nausea and vomiting, consider managing with metoclopramide, haloperidol, prochlorperazine, promethazine, lorazepam, or corticosteroids.2
4. For the symptom of depression, consider managing with methylphenidate, prednisone, or dexamethasone.2
As medications are added to a patient’s care plan it is very important to consider a few crucial interactions between HAART and commonly used palliative care medications.2 The protease inhibitors ritonavir, indinavir, nelfinavir, saquinavir and amprenavir as well as non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI) delavirdine interact with commonly used antidepressants including fluoxetine, paroxetine and sertraline. The NNRTIs efavirenz and nevirapine interact with anticonvulsants carbamazepine, phenytoin, and phenobarbital. In addition to these interactions on the basis of the cytochrome P450 enzyme the following medications should also be used with caution: meperidine, methadone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, dronabinol, benzodiazepines and zolpidem.2
Inevitably there will come a time when discontinuation of HAART is warranted.2 With this discussion comes the question of benefit versus. risk of therapy.2 The benefit is based on the patient’s prognosis and treatment goals for their end of life care. The benefits of continuing therapy include protection against encephalopathy or dementia, relief of constitutional symptoms and a psychological benefit from comfort that treatment is being maintained.2 The risk includes the continued build up of adverse effects from medications no longer truly working, patient comfort, and complication of end of life care and advance planning.2
As palliative care services continue to grow and play a greater role the trend is shifting towards palliation of symptoms.2 These medications should be given much earlier in care allowing patients to be comfortable for a longer period of time than just at the end of life.2 Eventually, however, removing HAART with a heavy side-effect profile and focusing on symptom palliation will lead to the most comfort for the patient and ideal treatment for their last days.1
Submitted by: Sydney Janusey, PharmD; Hospice Clinical Pharmacist at Delta Care Rx
1. O’Neill, Joseph F et al. A Clinical Guide to Supportive and Palliative Care for HIV/AIDS. US Department of Health and Human Services. Health Resources and Services Administration. HIV/AIDS Bureau. 2003. Accessed February 28, 2016.
2. Selwyn, Peter A; Forstein, Marshall. Overcoming the False Dichotomy of Curative vs Palliative Care for Late-Stage HIV/AIDS. JAMA, Vol 290, No 6. August 13, 2003.Accessed February 16, 2016.